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Liberation of Death Camps
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Liberation of Allach, a Dachau sub-camp
Allach was liberated by the 42nd Rainbow Div. on April 30, 1945
Allach was a sub-camp of Dachau near Munich, located approximately 10 miles from the main camp at Dachau. According to Marcus J. Smith, who wrote "Dachau: The Harrowing of Hell," the Allach camp was divided into two enclosures, one for 3,000 Jewish inmates and the other for 6,000 non-Jewish prisoners. Smith was a doctor in the US military, assigned to take over the care of the prisoners after the liberation. He wrote that the typhus epidemic had not reached Allach until April 22, 1945, about a week before the camp was liberated.
One of the prisoners at the Allach sub-camp of Dachau was Leo Goldner, who was then 34 years old. According to Mr. Goldner, the photograph above was taken a few minutes after soldiers of the 42nd Rainbow Division entered the camp at around 9 o'clock on the morning of April 30, 1945, one day after the main camp at Dachau was liberated. Since that day, Mr. Goldner says that he has been celebrating his "second birthday" on April 30.
The first US soldier arrived at the gate and announced to the prisoners "You are free!!!" Mr. Goldner asked the soldier for his name and home address: the man who was Mr. Goldner's "personal liberator" was George Thomann from Akron, Ohio.
Corporal Larry Matinsk hands out cigarettes to Allach inmates
Leo Goldner's account of the liberation of Allach is as follows:
"One day before liberation , we, the prisoners learned somehow that our liberation was imminent. During the night from (April) 29 to 30, the camp was attacked by US artillery and had some victims, but the target was a German Air Defense unit, situated in the vicinity of the camp. During the twilight of the morning, both the SS from the camp and the German military from the Air Defense disappeared."
Another prisoner who survived Allach was Max Mannheimer, who became well known as a tour guide at the Dachau main camp and a lecturer for high school classes on the Holocaust in Germany. Mannheimer was transferred to a Dachau sub-camp in Mühldorf near the end of the war; he was liberated by American troops on April 30, 1945.
Survivors of Allach, April 1945
The 66th Field Hospital, attached to the 42nd Division of the US Seventh Army, was brought to Allach to take care of the sick prisoners. By May 10th, they had moved on to help with the typhus epidemic in the main camp.
George Tievsky was a Jewish doctor with the 66th Field Hospital. In 2001, he spoke to a group, telling them "I was a personal witness of the liberaton of Dachau. It was so unspeakable and I could not speak of it for 40 years."
Tievsky died at the age of 89 on April 16, 2007. The following quote is from his obituary in the Washington Post:
In a discussion for the Holocaust documentary "To Bear Witness," Dr. Tievsky recalled the horrors of what he saw.
"I walked the streets of the pleasant, pretty little village of Dachau, and I could smell the smell of the death camp. I said to myself, how could this be?"
Boris Kobe (1905 - 1981), a Slovenian architect and painter, was a political prisoner at Allach; he painted a set of Taro cards while he was a prisoner at Allach in 1945.
Liberation of Dachau sub-camps
Survivors of Ampfing sub-camp of Dachau
The Dachau Concentration camp system included 123 sub-camps and Kommandos which were set up in 1943 when underground factories were built near the main camp to make use of the slave labor of the Dachau prisoners. These sub-camps were in the surrounding area and were liberated by various divisions of the American Seventh army who unexpectedly came across them on their way to capture Munich.
The photograph above shows survivors of the Ampfing sub-camp of Dachau, which was liberated by the 14th Armored Division of the US Seventh Army on May 3, 1945. The man on the far left in the photo above is Leslie Keller, a Jew from Szeged, Hungary who was first sent to Auschwitz in 1944 and then transferred to the Dachau sub-camp called Ampfing to work in the munitions factory there.
Liberation of Kaufering IV Dachau sub-camp
The photo below shows American soldiers standing at the gate into the Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau. The TV series "Band of Brothers" about the 101st Airborne Division recreated this scene in one of the episodes.
Entrance to Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau
Photo Credit: USHMM
The Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau was liberated by the 12th Armored Division of the US Seventh Army on April 27, 1945 with help from soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, who arrived on April 28, 1945. Kaufering IV was one of 11 camps, all named Kaufering and numbered I through XI, which were located near Landsberg am Lech, not far from the city of Munich. Kaufering IV had been designated as the sick camp where prisoners who could no longer work were sent.
There was a typhus epidemic in Germany in 1945 and Kaufering prisoners with typhus were sent to the Kaufering IV camp to die. The Kaufering IV camp was near the town of Hurlach; the camp had previously been called Schwabmünchen.
American soldier views bodies at Kaufering IV camp, May 1, 1945
The Dachau Concentration camp system included 123 sub-camps and Kommandos which were set up in 1943 when factories were built near the main camp to make use of the forced labor of the Dachau prisoners. These sub-camps were liberated by various divisions of the American army that unexpectedly came across them on their way to capture Munich.
One battalion of the 63rd Infantry Division was ordered to search for the sub-camps in the Landsberg area. American soldiers in the 63rd Infantry Division liberated seven of the eleven Kaufering sub-camps on April 29th and 30th, 1945. These camps had already been evacuated and the prisoners had been marched to the main Dachau camp, but hundreds of weak and sick prisoners had been left behind.
The 63rd Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2000.
The 11 Kaufering sub-camps were set up specifically to build three huge underground factories for a project called Ringeltaube. In these subterranean factories, the German jet fighter plane Messerschmitt Me 262 was to be built. Allied bombing raids had made it necessary for the Nazis to build their factories underground; this had caused great suffering for the prisoners who were forced to do the work of constructing them.
Barracks at Kaufering sub-camps were partially underground
Photo Credit: USHMM
In the last days of the war, in April 1945, all the Kaufering camps were evacuated except for the sick prisoners in the Kaufering IV camp, and around 15,000 prisoners were marched to the main Dachau camp. Some of the Kaufering prisoners arrived at the Dachau main camp on April 27, 1945, only two days before Dachau was liberated by American troops. On that same day, April 27, 1945, the Kaufering IV camp was liberated by the 12th Armored Division of the U.S. Army.
Survivors of Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau
Approximately 14,500 prisoners in the 11 Kaufering camps died of hunger, cold weather, overwork and typhus. Conditions were far more severe at the Kaufering camps where the barracks buildings had been built partially underground in an attempt to hide the camp from Allied planes.
When the 12th Armored Division first found the Kaufering IV camp on April 27th, there were hundreds of unburied bodies. The German civilians in Hurlach were forced, at gunpoint, to carry the bodies to mass graves for burial, as shown in the photo below.
German civilians forced to carry corpses at Kaufering IV sub-camp
Louis Vecchi of Benicia, CA was a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne. In an interview with Rachel Raskin-Zrihen of the Benicia Times-Herald, Vecchi described the Kaufering IV camp. The following quote is from the Times-Herald September 25, 2007 edition:
"It was the Landsberg slave labor camp (a Dachau death camp satellite camp)," Vecchi said. "When we got there, the people were practically dead from starvation. I know there are people who say the Holocaust didn't happen, but that's bull. I saw it."
Gene Cook was a soldier in A company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. After fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Cook's unit was ordered to Hitler's vacation home in Berchtesgaden, according to an article by Alex McRae and Megan Almon in The Times-Herald, published on December 24, 2007.
According to The Times-Herald article, on the way to Berchtesgaden, the soldiers of A Company "came across a strange complex circled with barbed wire. It was Landsberg, a satellite operation for the massive concentration camp at Dachau."
The following quote is from the article written by McRae and Almon in The Times-Herald:
Cook will never forget the sight. "I didn't even know what we were looking at," he says. "It took me a while to realize it was a pile of dead bodies."
The prisoners came out of their quarters, emaciated, filthy and disoriented.
"It was awful, "Cook says. "Some walked around like zombies. Some were so feeble they couldn't even stand."
The prisoners all begged for food. Cook gave one man all he had - a small piece of cheese - and the man said in English "You are God in disguise."
Late in the day, Cook saw a procession of men carrying what seemed to be a door with a purple cloth covering something. Cook learned the object beneath the cloth was soap made from the bodies of dead prisoners. He also learned the man he had given the cheese to was dead.
Dr. Charles P. Larson, a US Army doctor, examined 258 bodies at the Kaufering IV camp and reported that 189 had probably died of typhus or starvation, while 86 had apparently been burned to death, 11 had been shot inside the camp and 17 more had been gunned down outside the camp. Dr. Larson also did autopsies on some of the bodies at the Dachau main camp and determined that none had died from poison gas.
Apparently Dr. Larson did not test the soap that was found at the Kaufering IV camp, since no forensic report about human soap was ever entered as evidence by the American prosecutors at any of the post-war trials of the German war criminals. Nevertheless, Cook and other American veterans routinely tell these atrocity stories to gullible students who are studying the Holocaust in American schools.
Bernie Marks, a survivor of the Kaufering IV camp, is a Polish Jew, born Ber Makowski on September 17, 1929 in Lodz, Poland. After the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the Jews in Lodz volunteered to work for the Nazis in making uniforms for the German soldiers. The Lodz ghetto remained open until August 1944, when the last remaining Jews were sent to Auschwitz.
Although the Kaufering IV camp near Hurlach was not evacuated because the prisoners there were all sick, including some who had typhus, Marks claims that he and his father jumped off a train taking them to the Dachau main camp.
The following quote is from a news article in the Sacramento Bee on September 12, 2008, on the occasion of the upcoming Bar Mitzvah of Bernie Marks:
"When we got off the transport (to Auschwitz), I was selected to go with my mother and younger brother, but my father spoke to an officer in his excellent German and asked if I could go with the men," said Marks.
His father's quick thinking saved his life he never saw his mother and brother again.
Marks and his father were transferred to Dachau and then Hurlauch (sic), one of Dachau's 11 slave labor camps. They worked in a gravel pit to build an underground bunker where the Nazis planned to manufacture Messerschmitt ME 262 jets, Marks said. "You were allowed 500 calories a day, usually a lousy slice of bread, and you didn't get that until you came back from work."
In April 1945, Marks was suffering typhoid fever when he and his father jumped from a train going back to Dachau. The Nazis opened fire with machine guns and both were wounded.
"We never lost faith that freedom would come, and it did on April 27, 1945," said Marks, who was rescued with his father by the U.S. Army's 12th Armored Division.
One of their liberators, Marvin Bertelson of Sunnyvale, has been invited to attend Marks' bar mitzvah.
Commandant Johann Eichelsdorfer at Kaufering IV sub-camp of Dachau
The photograph above shows Commandant Johann Baptist Eichelsdorfer standing in the midst of the bodies found in the Kaufering IV camp. Note that the bodies in the foreground still have clothing, an indication that they died after the camp was liberated. Commandant Eichelsdorfer was captured a few days after the liberators arrived and brought back to the camp to be confronted with his crime; he was forced to stand in the middle of the corpses while the German civilians were encouraged to scream insults at him.
Johann Baptist Eichelsdorfer was convicted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau and sentenced to death; he was hanged at Landsberg prison, only a few miles from the Kaufering camp, on May 29, 1946.
In the last months of the war, Otto Förschner was given the job of Commandant of the Kaufering I camp, which had also been designated as a sick camp for prisoners who could no longer work.
Born in 1902, Förschner was an officer in the Waffen-SS who was transferred to concentration camp duty after he was wounded in battle. From August 1943 to February 1945, Förschner was the Commandant of KZ Mittlebau-Dora near the town of Nordhausen, where V-2 rockets were being manufactured in underground tunnels. Mittlebau-Dora was a sub-camp of Buchenwald. In the Buchenwald Report, a book that was written after the war by the prisoners, Förschner was praised by some of the inmates for improving conditions in the Mittlebau-Dora camp and for showing understanding of the prisoners' situation.
Otto Förschner was one of the 28 accused men at the first American Military Tribunal at Dachau who were sentenced to death and executed; he was hanged at Landsberg prison on May 28, 1945.
In December 1944, seven pregnant women in the Kaufering sub-camps were sent to the Kaufering IV camp where their babies were born between February and March 1945. Just before Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, the women and their babies were evacuated to the main camp. On the way, their train was hit by Allied bombs, and they arrived at Dachau after the camp had already been liberated
Media coverage of Nazi camps
"We are constantly finding German camps in which they have placed political prisoners where unspeakable conditions exist. From my own personal observation, I can state unequivocally that all written statements up to now do not paint the full horrors. In view of these facts, you may think it advisable to invite 12 congressional leaders and 12 leading editors to see these camps. If so, I shall be glad to take these groups to one of these camps. Such a visit will show them without a trace of doubt the full evidence of the cruelty practiced by the Nazis in such places as normal procedure." General Dwight D. Eisenhower, telegram to US Chief of Staff Marshall, 19 April 1945.
Newspaper reporters on tour of Buchenwald, April 25, 1945
Even before Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, reporters including Edward R. Morrow had visited the infamous camp at Buchenwald on April 15, 1945 and reported on atrocities such as the lamp shades made from human skin that were found in the home of Ilse Koch, wife of the former Commandant. America's best press photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, took photographs at Buchenwald which were published in Life Magazine on May 7, 1945. After Eisenhower suggested that the horror camps should have full coverage by the press, a group of prominent newspaper reporters toured Buchenwald on April 25, 1945.
A delegation of US Congressmen flew to Paris on April 22, 1945 and visited Buchenwald on April 24, 1945, almost two weeks after the camp had been liberated on April 11th. This congressional delegation arrived in Dachau on May 1, 1945, the same day that newsreels were released in American theaters, showing the Nazi atrocities at Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.
When a group of newspaper reporters arrived at Dachau on May 3, 1945, there were still more than 100 inmates dying each day of typhus and the bodies of the emaciated victims of this disease were spread out on the ground, although all the soldiers who participated in the liberation described seeing bodies "stacked like cordwood."
The camp had been placed under quarantine on May 2nd because it was a health hazard, but reporters and congressmen were doused with DDT from a spray gun to protect them from the lice that spreads typhus.
By the middle of May, everyone in America knew about the Nazi atrocities. If they didn't know what the American soldier was fighting for, now at least they knew what he was fighting against, to paraphrase a famous quote by General Eisenhower.
General Eisenhower had visited the Ohrdruf forced labor camp on April 12, one day after the liberation of Buchenwald, but he never saw Buchenwald or Dachau. In his autobiography, "Crusade in Europe," he didn't even mention the gas chambers in the Nazi camps.
18 newspaper reporters view corpses at Dachau, May 3, 1945
Howard Cowan's account of Dachau liberation
On April 30, 1945, the day after the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp by the US Seventh Army, the front page of every American newspaper screamed the news in banner headlines.
In the Chicago Daily Times, the headline read: "FREE 32,000 IN HORROR CAMP" Another smaller headline read: "Find Dachau Death Train." The next day, there would be even bigger headlines, announcing the news that Hitler had killed himself, but on April 30th, the most important news event in the entire world was the liberation of Dachau, the most notorious of the many Nazi concentration camps.
As quoted by Col. John H. Linden, the son of Brigadier General Henning Linden, in his book "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 45, the True Account," the Associated Press article written by Howard Cowan read as follows:
Mon., April 30, 1945***** Chicago Herald-American
BY HOWARD COWAN
DACHAU, Germany, April 30. --(AP)--
The U.S. 42nd and 45th divisions captured the infamous Dachau prison camp today and freed its 32,000 captives.
Two columns of infantry, riding tanks, bulldozers and Long Tom rifles - anything with wheels - rolled down from the northwest and surprised the S S (Elite Corps) guards in the extermination camp shortly after the lunch hour.
Score (sic) of S S men were taken prisoners and dozens slain.
The Americans were quickly joined by "trusties" working outside the sprawling barbed wire enclosure. Poles, Frenchmen and Russians seized S. S. weapons and turned them against their captors. Jan Yindrich, British war correspondent, and I saw things that greeted our soldiers - 39 open-type railroad cars standing on a siding which went through the walls of Dachau camp.
At first glance the cars seemed loaded with dirty clothing. Then you saw feet, heads and bony fingers. More than half the cars were full of bodies, hundreds of bodies.
Two SS guards fired into the mass (of prisoners), betraying their presence.
American infantrymen instantly riddled the Germans. Their bodies were hurled down into the moat amidst a roar unlike anything ever heard from human throats.
Almost 100 naked bodies were stacked neatly in the barren room with cement floors (the mortuary). They had come from a room on the left marked "shower bath."
REALLY A GAS CHAMBER
It really was a gas chamber, a low-ceilinged room about 30 feet square. After 15 or 20 persons were inside the doors were firmly sealed and the faucets were turned on and poison gas issued. Then the bodies were hauled into a room separating the gas chamber from the crematorium. There were four ovens with a huge flue leading to a smoke-blackened stack.
Outside this building were tens of thousands of articles of clothing stacked in orderly piles.
Typhus cases were scattered throughout the camp. The water supply of the city was reported contaminated from 6,000 graves on high ground which drains into the Amper river.
A French general was slain last week.
The GIs stormed through the camp with tornadic fury.
A Swiss Red Cross representative and two SS officers came out of the building behind a white flag. Gen Linden said:
"The Red Cross man said the real heads of the camp had fled and placed these two fellows in charge of the camp last night.
I accepted their surrender, loaded the three of them in a jeep and drove them down to the train and made them look. One SS. fellow asked for safe custody."
It has been more than 60 years since the liberation of Dachau, and we now know that the last three sentences of this news article are the only part that war correspondent Howard Cowan got right, although the first part of the story is the version that has entered American history books and is still there, virtually intact. Cowan's story is riddled with errors, as listed below:
The 45th and 42nd Divisions of the US Seventh Army did not "capture" the Dachau concentration camp. The SS guards were not "surprised" by the Americans; on the contrary, most of the SS guards and camp administrators had left the SS garrison the night before. A unit of Waffen-SS soldiers had been recently sent directly from the battle front with orders to surrender the SS garrison, adjacent to the prison camp, to the first Americans who arrived, according to Arthur Haulot, a Communist political prisoner from Belgium.
The SS administrators of the concentration camp had been preparing for the arrival of American troops for at least three days. The Commandant of the concentration camp, Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, had left along with a transport of prisoners on April 26th, leaving former Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss in charge. Weiss and most of the regular guards and administrators had then left on the night of April 28th. Victor Maurer, a Red Cross representative, was at the camp, ready to negotiate a surrender to the Americans.
The VIP prisoners at Dachau, who had been evacuated on April 26th for their own safety, were still on their way to the South Tyrol. The whole town of Dachau, including the watch towers in the concentration camp, was flying white flags of surrender, according to Nerin E. Gun, one of the Dachau prisoners, who wrote a book called "The Day of the Americans," published in 1966.
An SS-Totenkopf officer, 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, surrendered the concentration camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden of the 42nd Division in a correct military manner, accompanied by Victor Maurer, a Red Cross representative, who was carrying a white flag of truce.
The soldiers of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, 45th Division arrived at the SS garrison, next to the concentration camp, at 11 a.m. which was before the lunch hour.
The Dachau concentration camp was not an "extermination" camp, a term used by the Allies to mean a camp where prisoners were sent to be deliberately killed. Dachau was a Class I camp for political prisoners, who were mainly Communists, and a camp for foreign forced laborers who worked in a variety of factories there. It was not a camp specifically intended for the genocide of the Jews in Europe.
The captives in the camp were not set free. There was a war going on outside the camp and an epidemic inside the camp. The prisoners had to be kept inside the camp, some for as long as two months, until the epidemic was finally brought under control and the war was over. Some of the prisoners had been allowed out of the prison compound in order to work, but not outside the walls of the whole Dachau complex.
The soldiers of the 45th Division, arriving from the northwest, had been riding in tanks and trucks on their way to capture the city of Munich, but when they entered the huge Dachau camp complex through the railroad gate on the west side of the SS garrison, they were on foot. Soldiers of the 42nd Division and a few newspaper reporters rode in jeeps to the southwest gate of the Dachau complex, where Brig. Gen. Linden accepted the formal surrender of the concentration camp from SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker.
The "dozens" that were slain included Waffen-SS soldiers, stationed at the Dachau training camp and SS army garrison, who were executed after they had surrendered, according to Col. Howard A. Buechner, a medical officer with the 45th Division. The Waffen-SS soldiers who were killed included wounded or crippled soldiers who were dragged out of an army hospital and machine-gunned to death while they had their hands in the air. The soldiers who were gunned down were not guards in the adjacent concentration camp and they had had nothing to do with the inmates in the prison compound. In addition to the Waffen-SS soldiers killed during the liberation of Dachau, there were 40 SS guards shot or beaten to death by the prisoners, according to Buechner, although other eye-witnesses reported that there were as many as 50 guards killed after they had surrendered. The regular guards had left on the night of April 28, and had been replaced with 128 SS soldiers who were released from the camp prison.
Second Lt. Heinrich Wicker was reported missing by his mother and sister who were staying at the SS garrison at Dachau on the day that the Dachau camp was liberated. He was never heard from again and is presumed to have been killed after he surrendered the concentration camp to the 42nd Division.
Some of the prisoners in the "open-type railroad cars" had been killed by bullets from American fighter planes that were strafing everything that moved on the German roads and railroads, including cattle and sheep. Other prisoners in closed boxcars on the train had died of starvation because the 220-mile trip from Buchenwald had taken almost three weeks. The railroad tracks had been blown up by American bombs and the train had been rerouted through Czechoslovakia.
The "trusties" at Dachau were outside the prison compound but not outside the walls of the huge Dachau complex, which was around 20 acres in size. The guns which the prisoners used to kill the SS Totenkopf guards were given to them by American soldiers. The prisoners were also allowed to beat the SS guards to death with shovels while American soldiers stood by and watched. The bodies of the SS soldiers were horribly mutilated; their faces were stomped and fingers were cut off so that their SS rings could be taken as souvenirs.
The SS guards in the towers did not "betray their presence" by shooting. The camp inmates knew very well that the guard towers were always manned by guards with machine guns. All of the SS guards had been planning to abandon the camp and run for their lives, but Red Cross representative Victor Maurer had arrived a day or two before and persuaded 2nd Lt. Wicker to leave a few guards in the towers so that the prisoners could be kept inside the camp until the Americans arrived to take over. After the SS guards were shot in Tower B, and some of their bodies were thrown into the Würm river canal which formed a moat on the west side of the camp, an investigation of this incident was conducted by the US Army; the "secret" report on the conclusions of the inquiry said that the SS guards did not shoot.
The poison gas used by the Nazis was Zyklon-B, which was not in liquid form and it could not have come out of the shower nozzles. According to the Dachau Museum, the homicidal gas chamber at Dachau had bins on the outside wall, through which Zyklon-B pellets, the size of peas, could be poured onto the floor of what looked like a shower room. At the time of the liberation of Dachau, these bins were hidden behind a wooden structure attached to the front of the gas chamber building and none of the liberators, nor the newsmen, saw them.
The "tens of thousands of articles of clothing" were outside the fumigation cubicles in the same building where the homicidal gas chamber was located. The clothes were piled up and waiting to be deloused with Zyklon-B pellets which were put into the cubicles through an elaborate device that automatically opened a can of Zyklon-B pellets, poured them into a wire basket and then blew hot air over the pellets so that they gave off cyanide gas to kill the lice in the clothing. Although DDT was first used in Italy in 1943 to stop a typhus epidemic, the Germans were not using DDT to kill the body lice which spreads typhus.
The French general who was shot was General Charles Delestraint, who was executed on April 19, 1945 at Dachau, according to Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, who was an inmate in the camp bunker where the high-ranking and important prisoners were held.
Typhus, the disease that was decimating the camp, is not spread by contaminated water. It is typhoid that is caused by contaminated water, not typhus. The German word for typhus is Fleckfieber, which means spotted fever, a term that is used in America to mean several different diseases. Typhus is spread by body lice.
The camp administrators had been burning the bodies of those who died in the camp in an effort to prevent epidemics, but when they ran short of coal six months before the camp was liberated, they started a new cemetery high up on a hill called Leitenberg, so as not to contaminate the ground water in the town. On the day of the liberation, there were 900 prisoners in the camp who were dying of typhus. The American army doctors who arrived a few days later had never seen a case of typhus before. America had a vaccine for typhus but the Germans did not. German doctors who had tried unsuccessfully to develop a typhus vaccine at Buchenwald were put on trial as war criminals in the Nuremberg Doctors Trial.
The huge Dachau complex had its own water tower, separate from the water supply for the town. At the time of the liberation, there was no running water in the camp, according to US medical officers who arrived the next day. There was also no electricity in the kitchen, and the food was being cooked over wood-burning stoves. The Dachau camp had been bombed by American planes on April 9, 1945 because of the factories located outside the prison enclosure.
There is still considerable controversy swirling around the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Col. John H. Linden wrote a book in an effort to set the story straight, because his father, Brig. Gen. Henning Linden, the commanding officer of the 42nd Rainbow Division, was the man who accepted the surrender of the concentration camp. Each of these Seventh Army divisions is still arguing over which outfit should get the credit for the liberation of Dachau. A book by Flint Whitlock, entitled "The Rock of Anzio, From Sicily to Dachau: A History of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division," tells the other side of the story.
Today there are two plaques on the walls of the gate house that was the original entrance into the Dachau concentration camp. One plaque honors the 42nd Division which accepted the surrender of the camp from 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and the other plaque honors the 20th Armored Division which provided support for the soldiers of the US Seventh Army who were on their way to capture the city of Munich when they came across the Dachau camp.
After World War II ended with the surrender of the German army, General George S. Patton made the decision not to try American soldiers of the 45th and 42nd Divisions of the US Seventh Army as war criminals for the murder of SS soldiers who had surrendered during the liberation, nor for standing by while the liberated prisoners stomped SS guards to death after they had surrendered. This is a "page of glory" in American history that is rarely spoken of.
Newspaper story by Marguerite Higgins:
33,000 Dachau Captives Freed By 7th Army
110,000 Are Liberated at Moosburg; Nazi Doctor Admits Killing 21,000
By Marguerite Higgins
DACHAU, Germany, April 29 (Delayed) Troops of the United States liberated 33,000 prisoners this afternoon at this first and largest of the Nazi concentration camps. Some of the prisoners had endured for eleven years the horrors of notorious Dachau.
The liberation was a frenzied scene: Inmates of the camp hugged and embraced the American troops, kissed the ground before them and carried them shoulder high around the place.
At Moosburg north of Munich the United States 14th Armored Division liberated 110,000 Allied Prisoners of War, including 11,000 Americans from Stalag 7A.
From United States 12th Army Group headquarters came the story of a captured Nazi doctor, Gustave Wilhelm Schuebbe, who said that the Nazi annihilation institute at Kiev, Russia, killed from 110,000 to 140,000 persons "unworthy to live" during the nine months he worked there. He himself, he said, murdered about 21,000 persons.
The Dachau camp, in which at least a thousand prisoners were killed last night before the SS (Elite Guard) men in charge fled, is a grimmer and larger edition of the similarly notorious Buchenwald camp near Weimar.
This correspondent and Peter Furst, of the Army newspaper, "Stars and Stripes," were the first two Americans to enter the inclosure at Dachau, where persons possessing some of the best brains in Europe were held during what might have been the most fruitful years of their lives.
While a 45th Infantry Division patrol was still fighting a way down through SS barracks to the north, our jeep and two others from the 42d Infantry drove into the camp inclosure through the southern entrance. As men of the patrol with us busied themselves accepting an SS man's surrender, we impressed a soldier into service and drove with him to the prisoners barracks. There he opened the gate after pushing the body of a prisoner shot last night while attempting to get out to meet the Americans.
There was not a soul in the yard when the gate was opened. As we learned later, the prisoners themselves had taken over control of their inclosure the night before, refusing to obey any further orders from the German guards, who had retreated to the outside. The prisoners maintained strict discipline among themselves, remaining close to their barracks so as not to give the SS men an excuse for mass murder.
But the minute the two of us entered, a jangled barrage of "Are you Americans?" in about 16 languages came from the barracks 200 yards from the gate. An affirmative nod caused pandemonium.
Tattered, emaciated men weeping, yelling and shouting "Long live America!" swept toward the gate in a mob. Those who could not walk limped or crawled. In the confusion, they were so hysterically happy that they took the SS man for an American. During a wild five minutes, he was patted on the back, paraded on shoulders and embraced enthusiastically by the prisoners. The arrival of the American soldier soon straightened out the situation.
In this version of the liberation, Marguerite Higgins claims that she and fellow reporter Peter Furst were the first Americans through the gate into Dachau the prison compound. Other eye-witnesses say that it was Lt. Cowling of the 42nd Division who was the first American through the gate. She claims that the inmates didn't know the difference between a German SS uniform and an American uniform, which is highly unlikely. She does not mention Brig. Gen. Henning Linden, the man who accepted the surrender, although she was standing right there when the surrender took place, disguised as a man in heavy winter clothing and a cap with ear flaps. She also does not mention the name of the man who surrendered the concentration camp, SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker. Her story is the only account to mention that 1,000 prisoners were killed by the SS guards before they left, and I have not seen this mentioned in any of the books about Dachau. In her book, "News is a Singular Thing," Ms. Higgins wrote that the reason her report was delayed was that the wire service office was closed by the time she got there. She missed a most important scoop while the other reporters filed their stories ahead of hers.
Liberation of Dachau - who was there first?
The following account of the liberation of Dachau was sent to me in e-mail by Frank Burns, a soldier in the 42nd Rainbow Division. My comments are in regular type and his words are in italics.
I have always told people that I was in the infantry company that was first to reach the Dachau concentration camp. After going through quite a few of the many web sites covering "Dachau Liberation" and reading a couple of books I still think we were. (The books are: "Dachau 29 April 1945" & "Dachau Liberated"). But my experience was quite different than the others that I've checked out. I was a Pfc in Company I, 242nd Infantry, 42nd Division. I'm quite sure it was the 3rd Battalion but I don't remember which platoon or squad I was in. I wrote the following (and other experiences of my time in combat and the occupation) in 1999 strictly from memory. Then last month I went to the Internet to find pictures to illustrate what I had written. I found lots of material and all the controversy as to who was first, etc. Following is what I remember. Following the story I have some observations and questions that you might be able to answer or comment on.
Aerial photo of Dachau SS garrison and concentration camp
The aerial photo above shows the Dachau concentration camp as a rectangle on the upper right hand side. To the left is the SS garrison that was right next to the camp. If an arrow pointing north were added to this photo, it would point directly at the upper left hand corner.
Liberation of Dachau:
When we were approaching München (Munich) we were told that we would be sent ahead of the general attack to take the concentration camp at Dachau. It was to be a predawn attack. We were shown maps of the area and were told that the camp would be defended by the SS. We were loaded onto personnel carriers at about 2:00 a.m. and started on our way. We were on roads in the forest. When we were part way there we got word that the SS had left the camp. So we slowed down and got there just before dawn, probably about 6:00 a.m.. Our first sight of the camp was the high wall and the guard towers that were at the corners and spaced along the wall. We were approaching a corner of the enclosure. At the corner the wall extended to our left perpendicular to the road we were on and the other leg of the wall was parallel to the road. I think we were traveling from west to east but we could have been headed south. So I think we were looking at the southwest or northwest corner of the compound.
If these 42nd Division soldiers were traveling towards Munich, they were probably going south. The guard towers at the corners of a wall and spaced along the wall were the guard towers of the prison enclosure, or the concentration camp. The concentration camp was a rectangular area on the east side of the SS training camp and garrison. The whole area that was occupied by the SS and the prison camp was huge, at least 20 acres in size. The prison enclosure was about 5 acres.
The soldiers were probably traveling south on a road that went along the east side of the prison enclosure which had a high wall on three sides of it. The fourth side of the prison, which was the west side, had a barbed wire fence and a moat in front of the fence. According to some accounts, there was a wall in front of the moat that separated the prison compound from the SS part of the complex. There is a wall in that location today, but I am not sure that it was there when the camp was liberated.
The corner that Pfc. Burns describes was probably the northeast corner of the prison compound. There is a road that runs along the east wall of the prison enclosure. To his left would have been the north wall of the prison, which was the concentration camp. There would have been a guard tower in the center of that wall. As the soldiers were going down the road, the east wall of the prison compound would have been on their right and parallel with the camp. The north wall would have been perpendicular to the road.
The soldiers must have turned right at the end of the east wall of the concentration camp and traveled along the south wall of the camp. There would have been a guard tower at the corner, but not in the center of the south wall. There were 7 guard towers in all. One at each corner, one in the middle of the east wall, one in the middle of the north wall and the seventh tower was on top of the gatehouse into the concentration camp. That is the gate which has the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" on the iron bars.
As we approached the camp we first looked at the guard towers to make sure that the SS had really gone. The towers were empty so we were sure they had. We then traveled along the outside of the high stonewall (concrete?) until we came to a high gate. Our view of the camp from the outside was the wall and the upper part buildings to our left. One of the buildings had a high smoke stack that we assumed was the crematorium.
This sounds like Pfc. Burns was in front of the main gate which was a large building with a gate through it. To the left of this gate was a large building that was probably a factory building. Standing in front of the building to the left of the gate, one could have fired a shot and hit the crematorium smoke stack. The crematorium was just outside of the prison compound, at the northwest corner of the concentration camp.
To get into the prison compound, which was the concentration camp, Pfc. Burns would have had to have gone through the main gate, then he would have had to turn right and go over a little stone bridge over the moat, then through the iron gate of the gatehouse.
There was a pedestrian gate, the size of a door, that opened in the middle of the iron gate. The whole gate had a bar over the top of it which could be removed to open it. The pedestrian gate had a lock which could only be opened by remote control from inside the gatehouse. John Degro, as soldier in the 45th Division, claims that he shot the lock off this gate.
Across the street from our location were residential type houses.
The SS men who were stationed at the camp had their families living there. The SS complex was like a small city. There were houses inside the complex. On the south side of the complex, across the street from the main gate was a small park called Eicke Plaza that had formal
landscaping. Today the spot where Eicke Plaza was located is a soccer field.
Across the street from the south wall of the prison compound today is the parking lot for visitors to the Memorial Site. There may have been houses there when the concentration camp was in operation, but they are gone now.
After we arrived we received orders that we were to not open the gate or enter the camp but were to guard the gate and wait for the support service troops--doctors, logistics, MPs, etc.-- to get there. We were informed that since the camp was not defended, infantrymen were not needed and wouldn't be much help to the inmates of the camp. The support forces didn't start to arrive for at least an hour. So we made sure that enough men were at the gate and the rest of us just roamed around the area.
Soon some Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and a few civilians came out of the houses in the area and talked to us. I think the civilians were the POWs' girl friends. There were no US POWs however. The British POWs told us that things had been bad for the Germans lately and that they just didn't kept track of POWs anymore except for the US POWs. The reason was that the other Allied POWs stopped all resistance when they were captured---"we gave it a good fight but now it is over" attitude. But the US POWs kept trying to cause trouble and to escape. So the US guys were housed in boxcars at the Munich rail yard that was getting bombed almost every night. We questioned the civilians about what they knew about the concentration camp that was across the street from them. They said that other than some government project, they had no idea what it was. We thought they should at least have smelled the crematorium. (I have since thought that maybe crematoriums don't emit a bad odor.) Part of infantry battle is the terrible smell of burned flesh, hair and whatever else it is. So we were expecting a bad smell but there was actually no distinctive smell where we were at that time.
It was very cold on that day and it had snowed the day before. This might have kept the bodies from decomposing. The ovens in the crematorium had not been used since October 1944, because they had run out of coal to fire the ovens. The bodies were being taken to a hill called Leitenberg, which was near the camp, for burial. I have corresponded with other veterans who were there who said that there was no smell of bodies. The cold weather must have helped.
When the support service people finally arrived they opened the gate and we were able to get a quick look into the camp. The picture that is stuck in my mind is of flat cars piled high with corpses on the right and a handful of inmates walking around the grounds in front of the buildings on the left. One of the buildings was the one we thought was the crematorium.
If Pfc. Burns went through the main gate and walked straight ahead, he would have passed some factory buildings and then come to the crematorium area. The crematorium building would have been on his left. The corpses might have been piled on wagons to take them to Leitenberg hill for burial.
If he went through the West gate or the railroad gate, the part of the train that was inside the camp would have been on his left. The gate into the prison compound would have been at least a half a mile southeast of the railroad gate. To his right, after going through the railroad gate, would have been a large open area, which he might have thought was the prison compound.
The handful of prisoners walking around must have been prisoners who were working in the factories. At that hour of the morning, there would not have been many prisoners who were outside the prison compound itself. There might have been prisoners working at the crematorium, stacking up the bodies that were removed from the camp each day.
From what Frank Burns has described, I am not sure if he went through the gatehouse into the prison enclosure, where there were 32 barracks buildings in two rows of 16 each. In the days just before the liberation, a group of Communist inmates had taken over the camp. The Commandant had left the camp on April 28th, and a Red Cross representative had arrived on April 27th. The Committee instructed all the prisoners to stay inside their barracks. There were rumors that the SS was going to kill all the prisoners, rather than let them be liberated. That's why the Committee advised all the prisoners to stay inside and be quiet, so as not to provoke the SS.
Comments and Questions:
(1) Major differences between the Company I story and most of the others are that we had information about the location of the camp, that it would be defended and we went there to liberate it. So there must have been G2 on what was going on in the camp. The other units that were there on the 29th including General Linden's group seem to have stumbled onto camp. If there was G2, why didn't the other units receive it when they communicated with their Headquarters?
The story told by Lt. Col. Felix Sparks of the 45th Division is that he was instructed to liberate the camp. General Linden's group met some reporters when they were driving through the town of Dachau and these reporters led them to the camp. General Linden had no orders to liberate the camp. General Linden arrived with reporter Marguerite Higgins and several other reporters.
(2) My "first there" contention is based on our arrival very close to dawn. Most of the other outfits got there considerably later.
The story told by the 45th Division soldiers is that they arrived around 7:30 a.m. John Degro, who claims to have been the first soldier through the gate, said that his group started towards the camp at dawn.
(3) I haven't found anything on the Internet or in the books that sounds like the location where we were. We were not at the main gate with the building around it. It was more like the gate with the German Eagle over it (West Gate?) but I don't remember the Eagle. I don't know if the smoke stack we saw was actually the crematorium. And nothing on the Internet describes a place where there were houses just across the street from the camp wall.
The West gate was near the southwest corner of the SS complex. However, this corner was not a right angle. The corner was more like a 45 degree angle. If Pfc. Burns was traveling west to east, he would have come upon this corner. There was a road along the south side of the camp, so if he was traveling west to east, he might have been on this road. To his right, would have been the wall around the west side of the camp, but it would not have been perpendicular, since the southwest corner was a 45 degree angle.
Across from the West gate would have been the town of Dachau with lots of houses. Today, there are some very nice houses there, which look expensive. Near the southwest corner of the SS complex is where John F. Kennedy Plaza is today. This is a small park there now, which would have been a wooded area at the time Dachau was liberated. A railroad spur line ran parallel to the wall around the west side of the SS complex. This was where the death train was parked. A railroad gate was a little bit north of the West gate, the one with the eagle over it. This gate was open because the train was half inside the camp and half outside it. I have read stories about some soldiers going through this gate. There would have been a little bit of space between the train and the open gate, maybe about three feet on each side. There were bodies on the train and some of the cars were open gondola type cars, although I've heard that there were any flat cars on the train.
If Pfc. Burns went to the southwest corner of the SS complex and turned northeast, he would have been traveling along the west wall of the SS complex which was a street going in a northeastern direction. The prison compound, which was the concentration camp, would have been at least a half a mile from the West gate.
The main gate, with the building around it, would have been at least a half a mile down the road along the south side of the camp. This road was called the Avenue of the SS, but the American liberators named it Tennessee Road afterwards. Inside the SS complex, there were beautiful white buildings that are still there, which face this road. These buildings are still very impressive. They were built in the 1920ies when the Dachau camp was a large factory complex.
If Pfc. Burns entered through the West gate or the railroad gate, the crematorium would have been about a quarter of a mile to his left and and then another quarter of a mile to the east. He might have been able to see it over the tops of the buildings.
(4) I think that whoever gave the order that no infantry should enter the camp did the smart thing. The internet data says that virtually all of the SS (1473 of them) had left. So the camp would have been defenseless against an infantry unit. The SS who stayed were either very courageous or crazy. It was assumed that the only reason the Wehrmacht were fighting was that the SS would kill them if they didn't. The SS were thus marked men.
There was a prison for SS soldiers inside the complex. There were 128 men in this prison who were released to replace the soldiers who had left. There was also a group of wounded men in the hospital there. There were 200 SS men and Wehrmacht soldiers, who had just arrived shortly before with instructions to surrender the garrison. According to some stories there were 160 men in the hospital and there were 40 guards who stayed behind to man the towers of the concentration camp. Altogether, there were supposedly 560 soldiers there.
(5) Many of the reports on the Internet talk about the terrible smell. There was none where we were. Of course we were outside and probably upwind of the bodies we saw. Also assuming they were people who died on the train, they hadn't been dead for very long.
The train had arrived on April 26, 1945 and 1300 of the passengers had entered the camp. The ones who were too weak to walk about a half a mile to the prison enclosure were left on the train to die. Maybe they had not been dead very long. It was also very cold so the bodies did not decay, so there was no smell.
(6) I don't remember how the service troops opened the gate. But it wasn't by breaking it down. They may have shot the lock out. In fact they might not have been service troops. In any case, whoever it was that relieved us and entered the camp had to have been there quite a while before General Linden's group and the 157th Infantry. I find nothing on the Internet about the service outfits entering the camp before the 30th of April.
The 45th Division supposedly arrived around 7:30 a.m. and went through the railroad gate. Brig. General Henning Linden supposedly arrived around 11 a.m. and went through the main gate.
(7) I can't find any pictures of what I remember from looking into the camp. My only doubt about the scene has been whether it is what I really saw or was a memory of a picture.
(8) I guess there weren't a lot of people (inmates) wandering around when we looked in because it was prior to their roll call or because they were huddled in their barracks waiting to be killed or liberated. When I wrote the above account I didn't remember that there was a threat to kill all the prisoners but I think it might have been given as a reason for our planned attack before dawn.
Allegedly Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of RSHA, gave the order that all the prisoners were to be either evacuated or killed. After Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945, the American soldiers let the prisoners out and supplied them with guns and jeeps. They went to the nearby city of Weimar and there were stories about raping, looting and killing the civilians. Hitler was enraged when he heard this, so he gave the order that no more prisoners were to be liberated by the Americans.
However, Heinrich Himmler, as the head of the SS, was the one who was directly in charge of the camps. He had negotiated a surrender of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British, who took over the camp on April 15th, and he was also trying to negotiate a surrender of Dachau. Because of Kaltenbrunner's order, which Himmler ignored, the prisoners all thought that they would be killed before the Americans arrived.
(9) I've always thought that all of Company I was involved in what we did. However, the stories on the Internet and books relate different events for other parts of Company I. I guess we were split up at one point.
On a kind of different subject, all the contradictory statements on the Internet are interesting and confusing. It is obvious there was a lot of confusion and not very good coordination among the attacking units headed for Munich. This is understandable because we were all going as fast as possible to drive through Germany and end the war. Another aspect is information that says that even though Hitler ordered that no prisoners would be surrendered to Americans (like kill them all), Heinrich Himmler was trying to negotiate the surrender of the camp. He must have been in contact with American authorities - but who? Also there is information that the camp counsel had contacted the American troops coming in. In addition there is mention of prisoners of war of many countries in the vicinity. The SS probably would have lost control of them before we reached the camp. We must have been talking to some of them when we were told about the US prisoners at the Munich train yards.
Execution of SS soldiers at Dachau
"The killing of unarmed POWs did not trouble many of the men in I company that day for to them the SS guards did not deserve the same protected status as enemy soldiers who have been captured after a valiant fight. To many of the men in I company, the SS were nothing more than wild, vicious animals whose role in this war was to starve, brutalize, torment, torture and murder helpless civilians." Flint Whitlock, The Rock of Anzio, From Sicily to Dachau: A history of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division
Waffen-SS soldiers were executed by American liberators of Dachau
The photograph above is a still photo, taken by T/4 Arland B. Musser, 163rd Signal Photographic Company, US Seventh Army, on April 29, 1945, the day that the Dachau concentration camp was liberated. It shows 60 Waffen-SS soldiers on the ground, some wounded, some playing dead, and 17 dead, according to Flint Whitlock, historian for the 45th Thunderbird Division, who got this information from Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division of the US Seventh Army, the first unit to arrive at the Dachau camp.
In his book entitled "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945," Col. John H. Linden identified the men in the photo as follows: The second American soldier from the left is Bryant, whose first name is unknown, but whose nickname was "Bird Eye." The third soldier from the left is Martin J. Sedler, and the man who is kneeling is William C. Curtain. All three of these men were with M Company of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment. The soldier at the extreme right is Pfc. John Lee of I Company. The buildings in the background are inside the Dachau SS garrison where Waffen-SS troops were quartered; the building on the right is a hospital where a Reserve Company of crippled Waffen-SS soldiers, previously wounded in action, were quartered. The Waffen-SS was the elite volunteer Army which included many divisions from other countries, as well as German soldiers.
According to Col. John H. Linden's account of the liberation of Dachau, T/3 Henry F. Gerzen, 163 Signal Photographic Company, was filming the shooting with a movie camera. A few frames of this movie, which survived the cover-up of the Dachau massacre, show Lt. Col. Felix Sparks firing his pistol in the air to stop the action shown in the photo above, which allegedly took place around noon. However, Col. Howard A. Buechner, a medical officer with the 45th Division, claims that the photo above shows a second incident when 346 Waffen-SS soldiers were executed on the orders of Lt. Jack Bushyhead, at around 2:45 p.m.
Lt. Felix Sparks stops the killing of SS soldiers at the wall
The photograph above shows 27-year-old Lt. Col. Felix Sparks firing a pistol into the air, while at the same time, he is holding up his left hand as a signal to the American soldiers to stop shooting.
In 1989, Lt. Col. Sparks wrote an account of the role of the 45th Infantry Division in the liberation of Dachau. His description of what happened at the wall is as follows:
As I watched, about fifty German troops were brought in from various directions. A machine gun squad from Company I was guarding the prisoners. After watching for a few minutes, I started for the confinement area (the concentration camp), after taking directions from one of my soldiers. After I had walked away for a short distance, I heard the machine gun guarding the prisoners open fire. I immediately ran back to the gun and kicked the gunner off the gun with my boot. I then grabbed him by the collar and said: "What the hell are you doing?" He was a young private about 19 years old (Private William C. Curtin) and was crying hysterically. His reply to me was: "Colonel, they were trying to get away." I doubt that they were, but in any event he killed about twelve of the prisoners and wounded several more. I placed a noncom on the gun and headed towards the confinement area.
In his 1989 account of the liberation of Dachau, Sparks wrote the following regarding the number of SS soldiers who were killed in the Dachau massacre:
It was the foregoing incident which has given rise to wild claims in various publications that most or all of the German prisoners captured at Dachau were executed. Nothing could be further from the truth, The total number of German guards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly did not exceed fifty, with thirty probably being a more accurate figure.
According to Whitlock, the men of the 45th Infantry Division had been warned about the danger posed by German POWs by General George S. Patton, Jr., the Commander of the US Seventh Army, on June 27, 1943 just before their invasion of Sicily. Whitlock wrote:
"Patton cautioned the men to watch out for dirty tricks when it seemed a group of enemy soldiers wanted to surrender. A favorite tactic, the general said, was for a small group to suddenly drop their weapons and raise their hands or wave a white flag. When unsuspecting Americans moved into the open to take the enemy prisoner, the 'surrendering' troops would hit the dirt and their comrades, lying in wait, would spring up and mow down the exposed Americans. Patton warned the Thunderbirds to be on their guard for this sort of treachery and to show no mercy if the Germans or Italians attempted this trick. His words would have fateful repercussions."
The "fateful repercussions," that Whitlock was referring to, was the incident that happened at the liberation of Dachau when a young soldier of the 45th Infantry Division of the US Seventh Army opened fire on a group of Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered. He claimed that the surrendered soldiers had moved forward.
As the 45th Infantry Division advanced toward Dachau, with orders to liberate the infamous Concentration Camp, where it was common knowledge that Jews were being exterminated in gas chambers by the Nazis, the American soldiers had no prior information about the existence of the SS-Übungslager, which was the equivalent of an Army post, located right next to the Dachau prison compound. The gas chambers were just outside the barbed wire fence that separated the prison compound from the SS training camp. The men of the 45th Division were not expecting to find a garrison of soldiers, much less Waffen-SS soldiers. For the Americans, the SS had a reputation as the most evil of the evil German soldiers. Part of the bad reputation of the Waffen-SS stemmed from the fact that the guards in all the Nazi concentration camps were soldiers in the infamous SS-Totenkopfverbände, or the "Death's Head" unit of the SS. The regular Germany Army was the Wehrmacht.
Before reaching the SS camp, the soldiers of Lt. Col. Felix Spark's 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, I company, under the command of Lt. William P. Walsh, had seen a long line of abandoned cars of a freight train, filled with emaciated corpses, on Friedenstrasse (Peace Street) just outside the SS garrison. The photograph below shows the "Death Train." The train was loaded with prisoners from the Buchenwald camp, who had been evacuated to Dachau, but the train had been delayed for three weeks because of American bombing of the railroad tracks; some of the dead prisoners on the train had been killed by American bullets when the train was strafed by American planes, as Pfc. John Lee noted in his description of the liberation. The Waffen-SS soldiers, including a unit of Hungarian soldiers, who surrendered to the 45th Infantry Division in good faith, had nothing whatsoever to do with the Death Train.
American soldiers inspect the dead bodies on an abandoned train
An advance party of soldiers of I Company followed the railroad tracks and entered the SS garrison through the railroad gate, some time before an advance party from the 42nd Division went directly to the southwest entrance into the Dachau complex, where an SS-Totenkopf officer, 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, was waiting to surrender the Concentration Camp. As quoted in Flint Whitlock's book "The Rock of Anzio," Lt. Col. Sparks said, "We went along the south side of the camp and I saw the main entrance and decided to avoid it; if the Germans were going to defend it [the camp], I figured that's where they'd do it."
According to Whitlock, "Spark's decision to avoid approaching the main gate would result in much confusion and controversy for decades to come, for inside that gate, the Germans were ready to surrender, not fight."
The gate shown in the photograph below is where "the Germans were ready to surrender, not fight." It was about 75 yards from this gate, located on the southwest side of the Dachau complex, that 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrendered the Dachau concentration camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden of the 42nd Infantry Division. This photo was taken after the liberation; it shows two American soldiers guarding the gate.
Gate near where Lt. Heinrich Wicker was waiting to surrender at Dachau
Whitlock quotes Lt. Walsh as follows:
There's a big gate, and this German guy comes out of there. He must have been about six-four or six-five, and he's got beautiful blond hair. He's a handsome-looking bastard and he's got more Goddam Red Cross shields on and white flags....My first reaction is, "You son of a bitch, where in the hell were you five minutes ago before we got here, taking care of all these people? ....Well, everybody was very upset. Every guy in that company, including myself, was very upset over this thing, and then seeing this big, handsome, son of a bitch coming out with all this Red Cross shit on him.
The photograph below shows the "big gate" which Lt. Walsh described. This photo was taken on the day of the liberation; it shows Waffen-SS soldiers from the garrison surrendering to the Americans.
The "big gate" where Waffen-SS soldiers surrendered
What Lt. Walsh and the men of I company did not know was that the SS training camp and garrison was completely separate from the Dachau concentration camp, although the prison compound was inside the large SS complex, and only accessible by first going through the gates into the SS garrison. The gate into the Dachau concentration camp is shown in the photograph below.
Gate into Dachau concentration camp was inside the SS complex
In his book, "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945," Col. John H. Linden wrote that the night before, on April 28th, "A combat unit of the Waffen-SS was sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp to surrender the camp to the first U.S. Army unit to reach the camp."
According to Nerin E. Gun's book "The Day of the Americans," published in 1966, the Commander of the combat unit of Waffen-SS soldiers was Lt. Heinrich Skodzensky, although there are no SS records which mention his name. There is no mention of Skodzensky in the Dachau archives or in the Berlin Bundesarchiv.
Abram Sachar gave this account of the surrender of the concentration camp in his book entitled "The Redemption of the Unwanted" published in 1983:
Soon the advance scouts (of the 45th Division) were joined by other Allied soldiers and one of the German guards came forward to surrender with what he believed would be the usual military protocol. He emerged in full regalia, wearing all his decorations. He had only recently been billeted to Dachau from the Russian front. He saluted and barked "Heil Hitler". An American officer looked down and around at mounds of rotting corpses, at thousands of prisoners shrouded in their own filth. He hesitated only a moment, then spat in the Nazi's face, snapping "Schweinehund," before ordering him taken away. Moments later a shot rang out and the American officer was informed that there was no further need for protocol.
This account refers to the execution of Lt. Heinrich Skodzensky, who had allegedly been put in charge of the SS garrison only recently, according to Nerin E. Gun, a survivor of Dachau. Skodzensky was allegedly executed by soldiers of the 45th Thunderbird Division who had arrived at the Dachau complex before the 42nd Rainbow Division. Contrary to Sacher's description of Lt. Skodzensky's execution, the concentration camp where "thousands of prisoners shrouded in their own filth" were being held was at least one kilometer from the area where the first executions of the Waffen-SS soldiers took place.
According to Col. Buechner, who wrote a book called "The Hour of the Avenger," the SS garrison had a capacity of 1473 men. The guards of the concentration camp, who were SS-Totenkopf soldiers, were quartered at the SS garrison, along with Waffen-SS soldiers who had recently arrived from the front. The Waffen-SS soldiers were not responsible for the Dachau concentration camp, which was administrated by the SS-Totenkopfverbände, not by the Waffen-SS. Many of the guards had fled on the April 28th. Their wives and families had been left behind in the SS garrison.
Whitlock wrote that one of the men of I company shot the handsome SS soldier, who had surrendered at the "big gate," because he tried to make a break to escape, after he had surrendered, according to Lt. Walsh. The name of this soldier is unknown. Then four more Waffen-SS soldiers emerged with their hands up and surrendered to the men of I company. Remembering the words of General Patton who had warned about dirty tricks, and knowing the evil reputation of the SS men, Lt. Walsh herded the SS soldiers into an empty railroad boxcar inside the camp and "emptied his pistol" into them, according to Whitlock.
Lt. Walsh and his men continued through the SS garrison, rounding up the soldiers who had surrendered and separating the Waffen-SS soldiers from the Wehrmacht soldiers, who were in the regular German army. The photograph below shows some of the German soldiers who had surrendered.
Soldiers at the Dachau garrison after they surrendered
Note the prisoners, who are assisting the American soldiers, in the photograph above, taken on April 29, 1945, the day of the liberation. On the right is a liberated prisoner wearing a pair of striped prison pants and a jacket with an X on the back. The X was painted on the civilian clothing worn by some of the prisoners to identify them in the event they escaped.
The SS soldiers, who had surrendered, were lined up against a wall that formed part of a coal bin, as shown in the photograph at the top of this page. Lt. Walsh called for a machine gun to be set up facing the prisoners, and ordered his I company soldiers to shoot the Germans if they didn't stay back. When the SS soldiers saw the machine gun cocked and ready to fire, they panicked and started toward the American soldiers, according to John Lee of I company, as quoted by Whitlock.
The medic who was present, Peter Galary, told Whitlock that he "refused to patch up the Germans we shot."
The Killing of the Guards in Tower B.
11. After entry into the camp, personnel of the 42nd Division discovered the presence of guards, presumed to be SS men, in a tower to the left of the main gate of the inmate stockade. This tower was attacked by Tec 3 Henry J. Wells 39271327, Headquarters Military Intelligence Service, ETO, covered and aided by a party under Lt. Col. Walter J. Fellenz, 0-23055, 222 Infantry. No fire was delivered against them by the guards in the tower. A number of Germans were taken prisoner; after they were taken, and within a few feet of the tower, from which they were taken, they were shot and killed. Quoted from the IG Report of the U.S. Seventh Army
US Army photograph shows 6 dead German soldiers at Tower B
Reconstructed Tower B now has door inside the prison compound
The photograph at the top of the page shows the bodies of six SS soldiers at the base of Tower B in the Dachau concentration camp after they were gunned downed by American soldiers. The bodies of two other SS men from Tower B had fallen into the Würm canal beside the tower.
The second photograph above shows how the restored guard tower B looks today. When the camp was in operation, the door into the tower was outside the fence. During the reconstruction, the door was put inside the prison enclosure.
On April 29, 1945, the day that the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by American troops, white flags had been flying from all seven of the Dachau guard towers since 7 o'clock in the morning. When American soldiers first entered the camp, eight SS men descended from Tower G, the one closest to the gatehouse, and then surrendered with their hands in the air. One of the guards in Tower G was an SS man named Stahl, who survived to tell the story.
Eight guards from Tower A, which is on top of the gatehouse, then came down the stairs and surrendered to the Americans. The guards in Tower B also surrendered to the American liberators, but were gunned down.
Waffen-SS soldiers surrendering to American soldiers
The photograph above shows Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent to Dachau to surrender the camp to the Americans. All of the regular guards had escaped from the camp the night before. There were 128 SS men in the camp prison who were released and ordered to guard the camp after the regular guards left.
The view in the photo above is looking north. On the right side of the photo is the road that ran alongside the prison compound on the west side. Tower B is located midway down this road, but not shown in the picture. The building in the upper left corner of the photo has since been torn down and there is now a wall in the location where the line of poplar trees is shown in the photo. Another wall and an iron gate now separate this part of the prison camp from the gatehouse, which is behind the camera in this photo. The crematorium building where the gas chamber is located is at the end of the road alongside the prison enclosure, on the west side of the Würm river which is shown in the photo below.
The photograph below shows two soldiers from the 42nd Rainbow Division and one of the released prisoners pulling the body of a dead Waffen-SS soldier from the Würm river which flows in a concrete-lined canal along the west side of the camp. The American soldier on the far right is 19-year-old Richard F. Dutro of 232 Infantry, E Company from Zanesville, Ohio.
A prisoner and two 42nd Div. soldiers pull body of guard from moat
Dr. Victor Maurer, a Red Cross representative from Switzerland, had arrived at the Dachau prison compound on April 27, 1945, two days before the liberation. Maurer had tried to persuade Obersturmführer Johannes Otto, the Adjutant to the last Commandant, Edward Weiter, to leave guards in the towers in order to secure the camp until the Americans arrived, but most of the regular guards left on April 28th, along with Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant. The Commandant of the camp, Eduard Weiter, had already left on April 26th with a transport of prisoners headed toward Austria. Finally, Maurer convinced SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker not to abandon the camp, but to leave guards posted in the towers to keep order until the prisoners could be turned over to armed American soldiers. Wicker was in charge of a group of SS men who had recently arrived at Dachau; they were former guards in three sub-camps of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. The guards who were gunned down by Wells and the other American soldiers had only been at Dachau for a few weeks and they were, in no way, responsible for the conditions in the camp.
Maurer knew that there were around 800 common criminals, including convicted murderers, who had been imprisoned at Dachau. He was fearful that an estimated 40,000 vengeful Dachau inmates would be released to wreak havoc in the surrounding area which was still a battle zone. There was also a typhus epidemic in the camp and Maurer did not want the prisoners to be released until the epidemic could be brought under control.
When an advance party from the 42nd Division arrived in a jeep on the street that borders the south side of the SS complex, they saw Maurer and Wicker waiting to surrender the camp under a white flag of truce. At the same time, I Company of the 157th Regiment of the 45th Division was arriving at the railroad gate into the SS camp, on the west side of the complex, almost a mile from the prison enclosure.
After Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered to I Company were gunned down in the coal yard of the SS camp, Lt. William Walsh led his men toward the prison enclosure east of the SS camp. There they met some of the soldiers of the 42nd Division along the barbed wire fence on the west side of the concentration camp.
The shooting of disarmed German soldiers during the Dachau liberation was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of the Seventh Army. Their report was finished on June 8, 1945 but was marked Secret. The report has since been made public and a copy of it was reproduced in Col. John H. Linden's book entitled "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945." Here are four paragraphs from the report which pertain to the shooting of the guards at Tower B.
11. After entry into the camp, personnel of the 42nd Division discovered the presence of guards, presumed to be SS men, in a tower to the left of the main gate of the inmate stockade. This tower was attacked by Tec 3 Henry J. Wells 39271327, Headquarters Military Intelligence Service, ETO, covered and aided by a party under Lt. Col. Walter J. Fellenz, 0-23055, 222 Infantry. No fire was delivered against them by the guards in the tower. A number of Germans were taken prisoner; after they were taken, and within a few feet of the tower, from which they were taken, they were shot and killed.
12. Considerable confusion exists in the testimony as to the particulars of this shooting; however Wells, German interrogator for the 222 Infantry, states that he had lined these Germans up in double rank, preparatory to moving them out; that he saw no threatening gesture; but that he shot into them after some other American soldiers, whose identities are unknown, started shooting them.
13. Lt. Colonel Fellenz was entering the door of the tower at the time of this shooting, took no part in it and testified that he could not have stopped it.
18. It is obvious that the Americans present when the guards were shot at the tower labored under much excitement. However Wells could speak German fluently, he knew no shots had been fired at him in his attack on the tower, he had these prisoners lined up, he saw no threatening gesture or act. It is felt that his shooting into them was entirely unwarranted; the whole incident smacks of execution similar to the other incidents described in this report.
None of the American soldiers who killed the guards who surrendered at Dachau were ever put on trial for violating the Geneva Convention. The guards and staff members who survived the massacre at the liberation of Dachau were put on trial by an American Military Tribunal conducted at Dachau and all were convicted of participating in a common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929.
Hans Linberger survived the Dachau Massacre
Five SS soldiers who have surrendered
Hans Linberger was a Waffen-SS soldier who had been wounded in battle on the eastern front and, after a long hospital stay, had arrived at the Dachau SS garrison on March 9, 1945 as a member of a Reserve Company. On April 9, 1945, the men of the Reserve Company were put into the hospital that was right next to the scene of the shooting. They had been so severely wounded that they were no longer fit for combat; Linberger had been wounded in battle four times and had lost an arm.
In his testimony given to the German Red Cross (DRK) after the war, Hans Linberger said that the American liberators came into the SS hospital armed with Machine Pistols (sub-machine guns).
Linberger stated that he went to the entrance of the hospital, carrying a small Red Cross flag as a sign of surrender; it must have been obvious to the American liberators that this was a hospital, that the soldiers there were unarmed and that one of the sleeves of Linberger's uniform was empty.
Linberger testified under oath that an American soldier shoved a Machine Pistol against his chest and then hit him in the face. Another American soldier allegedly said to him: "You fight Ruski, you no good." Ruski was German slang for a Russian. America was fighting on the side of the Russian Communists in World War II, and Linberger had been at the eastern front, fighting the Russians.
According to Linberger's sworn statement, the American who had placed the MP against his chest then went inside the hospital and immediately shot a wounded Waffen-SS soldier, who fell down to the ground motionless. When Dr. Schröder, the head of the hospital, tried to surrender, he was beaten so hard that he suffered a fractured skull, according to Linberger.
Linberger said that the wounded men in the hospital were ordered out and after the Waffen-SS soldiers were separated from the Wehrmacht soldiers of the regular Germany Army, the SS men were lined up against a wall. A movie camera was set up so that the scene could be filmed. The Waffen-SS soldiers were then mowed down with machine gun fire while the camera rolled.
The photograph below shows the hospital in the background on the right-hand side. On the roof is a red cross on a white background, which clearly marks the building as a hospital.
Waffen-SS soldiers executed with machine guns
There is considerable disagreement about what time the photo above was taken. According to Col. Howard A. Buechner, a medical officer in the 45th Division, the photo was taken at around 2:45 p.m. during a second action when 346 SS soldiers were allegedly killed. In his book, "The Hour of the Avenger," Col. Buechner wrote that a second machine gun was located to the right, but out of camera range. Lt. Jack Bushyhead was in charge of the second machine gun, which Col. Buechner says was set up on top of a bicycle shed. However, Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, has stated that the photo above depicts a shooting which occurred around noon and resulted in 17 deaths, according to his story.
Linberger told the German Red Cross that he managed to survive only because the soldier standing next to him was shot in the stomach and when the wounded man fell to the ground, Linberger fell down with him. Linberger's head and face were covered with blood from the wound of the soldier who had been shot, so that it appeared that Linberger had been severely wounded. Linberger said that he shared some chocolate with another soldier while they waited for a shot in the neck to finish them off, as was customary in an execution.
According to Linberger, the shooting was halted when a few drunken prisoners arrived with shovels, "looking for a man named Weiss." The photo below shows a guard, named Weiss, who is being confronted by two Polish prisoners. In the background of the photograph below, one can see some of the buildings in the SS garrison and the coal yard wall where the bodies of Waffen-SS soldiers are lying on the ground after they had been executed with their hands in the air by the men of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, 45th Division.
Two prisoners prepare to beat one of the guards
The photograph below shows Dachau prisoners celebrating with bottles of wine after the American liberators arrived. The wine was probably obtained from the SS warehouses, which Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant, had turned over to the inmates before he escaped. The prisoners are wearing worker's caps which were adopted by some of the inmates as a symbol of their Communist affiliation. Note the man in the center in the bottom row; he is the man on the left in the photo above, and he is also in the next two photographs below.
Communist prisoners celebrate with wine after Dachau liberation
According to Linberger's account of the shooting at the coal yard wall, a man wearing a Red Cross armband came up to the wounded men, as they were lying on the ground by the wall waiting to be finished off, and threw some razor blades to them, saying "There, finish it yourself." A wounded German soldier, named Jäger, cut the wrist of his own wounded right arm and then asked Linberger to slash his other wrist. Just as Jäger was proposing to return the favor by slashing Linberger's wrists for him, an American officer arrived with Dr. Schröder "who could barely keep himself standing," and the shooting was stopped. The SS soldiers who were still alive were allowed to drag away their wounded comrades, according to Linberger. The American officer who halted the shooting was Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment.
The photograph below shows the same liberated prisoner, now armed with a rifle. He is talking, in a bellicose manner, to a Hungarian soldier who has surrendered, while a young American G.I. looks on in amazement. The liberated prisoners were armed by the Americans and allowed to kill 40 of the Dachau guards, according to Col. Howard Buechner, who wrote about the Dachau massacre in his book "The Hour of the Avenger," published in 1986.
Communist prisoner talks to Waffen-SS soldier who has surrendered.
Later, some of the wounded Waffen-SS soldiers went to the town of Dachau where Linberger mentioned that they were in the cafe of the Hörhammerbräu, a Gasthaus in Dachau, which had formerly been the site of Nazi party meetings. Linberger said in his testimony that the barracks of the SS soldiers had been looted by the liberated prisoners. As he and other Waffen-SS survivors were walking on the road to the town of Dachau, they were spat upon and cursed by the looters who "wished we would all be hung."
Linberger testified that "During this action, 12 dead were left nameless." The "action" that he was referring to is the killing of the Waffen-SS soldiers at the wall around noon. His account agrees with that of Col. Howard Buechner, who says that there were 12 dead in the first incident, when SS soldiers were lined up against a wall and shot.
Linberger continued his testimony: "As I later found out, documents and name tags had been removed on American orders, and a commando of German soldiers were supposed to have buried these dead in an unknown location." The "commando of German soldiers" refers to a work party of German POWs who were ordered to perform forced labor in the burial of the dead. It is a violation of the Geneva convention to remove identification from fallen enemy soldiers or to bury them in an unmarked grave. In this passage of his testimony, Linberger is referring to the 12 men killed at the wall, whose name tags he says were removed.
Linberger told the German Red Cross that he found one of the mass graves of the SS soldiers, which included the body of a German soldier named Maier, who was in the SS hospital at Dachau because his leg had been amputated. According to Linberger, Maier was shot in another area of the hospital terrain near the hospital wall. "He lay there with a shot in his stomach and asked Miss Steinmann to kill him, since he could not bear the pain any longer. His dying relieved Miss Steinmann from completing the last wish of his comrade. In the proximity of the hospital/mortuary were probably other comrades executed at the walls, as I later found traces of gunfire." According to Linberger, bodies of the SS men killed during the liberation were buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of the SS garrison.
Linberger's statement to the German Red Cross was quoted by T. Pauli, the chairman of a group of survivors of the Flemish SS volunteers in their magazine called Berkenkruis in October 1988. The article, translated into English by one of the Flemish veterans, can be read on a separate page on this web site. This magazine also reported another massacre at Erfurt, where American soldiers killed 52 Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered.
The bodies of the dead SS soldiers were left in the coal yard until May 3, 1945 when the incident was investigated by Lt. Col. Joseph Whitaker, the Seventh Army's Assistant Inspector General. A report on the "Investigation of Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau" was filed on June 8, 1945. It was marked secret, but the contents were later revealed to the public in 1991. A copy of the report is included in Col. John H. Linden's book "The Surrender of Dachau 29 April 1945."
The paragraphs below, from the Secret Report, pertain to the Execution of German soldiers by members of the 45th Division.
4. At the entrance to the back area of the Dachau prison grounds, four German soldiers surrendered to Lt. William P. Walsh, 0-414901, in command of Company "I", 157th Infantry. These prisoners Lt. Walsh ordered into a box car, where he personally shot them. Pvt. Albert C. Pruitt, 34573708, Company "I"157th Infantry, then climbed into the box car where these Germans were on the floor moaning and apparently still alive, and finished them off with his rifle.
5. After entry into the Dachau Camp area, Lt. Walsh segregated from surrendered prisoners of war those who were identified as SS Troops.
6. Such segregated prisoners of war were marched into a separate enclosure, lined up against the wall and shot down by American troops, who were acting under the orders of Lt. Walsh. A light machine gun, carbines, and either a pistol or a sub-machine gun were used. Seventeen of such prisoners of war were killed, and others were wounded.
7. Lt. Jack Bushyhead, 0-1284822, executive officer of Company "I", participated with Lt. Walsh in this handling of the men and during the course of the shooting personally fired his weapon at these prisoners.
16. Lt. Walsh testified that the SS men were segregated in order to properly guard them, and were then fired upon because they started moving toward the guards. However, the dead bodies were located along the wall against which they had been lined up, they were killed along the entire line, although Lt. Walsh only claims those on one flank moved, and a number of witnesses testified that it was generally "understood" that these prisoners were to be shot when they were being segregated. These facts contradict the defensive explanation given by Lt. Walsh.
Lt. Jack Bushyhead was a Native American, a "Cherokee Indian"from Oklahoma. Col. Buechner claims that 346 Waffen-SS soldiers were executed, on Lt. Bushyhead's orders, in a second action later that day. They were lined up against a wall and machine-gunned to death while they had their hands in the air.
Dan Dougherty was a 19-year-old soldier with C Company, which was ordered to relieve I Company after the SS soldiers were killed. In an interview in April 2005 with Jennifer Upshaw, Assistant City Editor of the Marin Independent Journal in Marin County, California, Dougherty said that the men of I company had "gone berserk" under the strain.
The soldiers of the 45th division had seen dead prisoners on a train parked outside the SS garrison before entering Dachau. At least one of the men of I company, Private John Lee, knew that some of the prisoners, who were riding in open cars, had been killed by American bullets when the train was strafed by American planes during its three-week journey, through the war zone, from Buchenwald to Dachau, a distance of only 200 miles.
In the following quote from Upshaw's article in the Marin Independent Journal, Dougherty described how the men of I Company reacted to the sight of the dead prisoners:
"They became very emotional, crying," Dougherty said. "We went in to relieve them. They'd walked along that same train of boxcars. We came to the coal yard. It was a strange sight because here are about 10 reporters standing in this courtyard around corpses of SS officers."
An estimated 200 to 300 SS guards were rounded up - two to three dozen were "killed unnecessarily," Dougherty said.
"I Company, we now know they got there about noon and at 2 p.m. arrived at the southwest corner and worked over to the east side where the prison was. They were holding the prisoners of war in the coal yard. We know there something happened. About 17 (guards) were shot."
Dougherty said he has learned through his research a U.S. Army private insisted the group had fired at the guards in self defense, although the company's commanding officer said the group was not provoked.
"I think it haunted some of them," he said.
No one was ever charged with a crime, he said.
In a previous interview with Ronnie Cohen of the Jewish Weekly News of Northern California in April 2001, Dougherty said that, soon after he arrived at Dachau, he had seen about 10 reporters staring at a pile of corpses. The following is a quote from Dougherty in this article:
"This mound of corpses was about 2 or 3 feet high and 15 feet across. And they were SS. One of the corporals in my company whips out a hunting knife and cuts a finger off one of the bodies. He wanted an SS ring for a souvenir."
Herbert Stolpmann was a German POW who worked for the US military at Dachau after the liberation. In an e-mail letter to me, Stolpmann wrote:
When American Troops "liberated" Camp Dachau proper, they forced all the SS-families, including women and children, out of the so-called villas, put their fathers against the wall and shot them. Most of the mothers had cyanide capsules; they gave them to their children and told them, put them into their mouths, bite onto them as soon as Daddy is shot. The American "Liberators" stopped the shooting after about 24 children were dead.
The American soldiers who were involved in the Dachau massacre were court-martialled, but the papers were torn up and then burned by General George S. Patton, Commander of the US Third Army. The Dachau massacre was kept secret until 1991 when information was finally released. This newspaper article tells about the ethics of shooting unarmed prisoners of war at Dachau.
With regard to the shooting of German POWs, Jim Stephens, a rifleman with the 63rd Division of the U.S. Seventh Army, told reporter Steven Mihailovitch that "the experience of Dachau affected his unit during the subsequent fight against the German army."
The following words of Jim Stephens were quoted in an article written by Steven Mihailovitch on November 10, 2008 for the San Marcos, CA Today's Local News website:
"We didn't bother too much with capturing," Stephens remembered. "If they stuck their head up, we didn't look if they were surrendering."
At the proceedings against the Waffen-SS soldiers accused of the Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, which were held in a building inside the former SS training camp at Dachau, any mention by the defense that American soldiers had killed German POWs, was ordered stricken from the record by the judges of the American Military Tribunal.
Did African American soldiers liberate Dachau?
Dachau prisoners wave their hats at the American liberators
The U.S. Army credits the 45th Thunderbird Division, the 42nd Rainbow Division and the 20th Armored Division as the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945. There were no African-American soldiers in these three divisions because the American Army was segregated during World War II. However, a few African-American veterans have claimed that they were there when the main Dachau concentration camp was liberated on April 29, 1945. Other veterans, including Lt. Col. Felix Sparks of the 45th Thunderbird Division, maintain that there were no black soldiers among the liberators of Dachau.
According to a news article in the Boston Globe on October 12, 2000, Dr. Paul Parks was slated to receive the Raoul Wallenberg Award from B'nai B'rith, but the plan to honor Parks for his role in liberating Dachau was canceled after retired Army Col. Hugh F. Foster III informed B'nai B'rith spokesman Eric Rozenman that there is no military record of Dr. Parks being at Dachau when the camp was liberated.
Dr. Parks served with the 365th Engineer Regiment from 1943 to 1945; he has acknowledged that his regiment was not at Dachau on April 29, 1945, but he told a Boston Globe reporter that he was on a special assignment to deactivate mines throughout France and that is how he came to be at Dachau when the camp was liberated.
Dr. Parks claimed that his military records were lost in a fire in 1973, which means that his story of being with the soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day also cannot be confirmed. Foster claims that the 365th Engineer Regiment was in England on D-Day.
According to the Boston Globe article, "Parks has been among the most prominent black leaders in Massachusetts over the last half century. He was vice president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1960s, education secretary under then-Gov. Michael Dukakis and founder of a program that for 34 years has bused black children from Boston to suburban schools."
In a book entitled "The Last Days," about a Steven Spielberg documentary with the same name, Dr. Parks said the following, regarding why African-American soldiers were chosen to liberate the concentration camps:
"About our role near the end of the war, though I have no proof of this, a Bostonian who was on General Eisenhower's staff told me that the decision was taken that, wherever possible, the liberators of the camps would be black soldiers - United States soldiers. He said that they had come to the conclusion that if the people who were in the camps saw black soldiers they would feel more at ease with them. It wasn't some sort of weird cruel trick - people who saw us come into the camps, some of them my friends now, have told me, 'We knew when we saw you that you weren't Germans....we knew you had to be Americans' - so it did work."
On November 11, 1992, a TV documentary was aired by PBS on nationwide TV in honor of Veterans' Day. The title of the documentary was the same as the title of the book on which it was based: "Liberators: Fighting On Two Fronts In WWII." The book was written by Lou Potter with some help from William Miles and Nina Rosenblum, the co-producers who made the film and the theatrical version. The film was produced by Miles Educational Film Production in New York City. The book was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in late 1992. Also included in this lavish project was a workbook for High School students.
Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II was exposed as a fraud within weeks of its debut, but the story still lives on.
The documentary, which was touted as historically accurate, claimed that the 761st Tank Battalion, attached to the 71st Division, liberated both Buchenwald and Dachau. Veterans who participated in the liberation of these camps deny that the soldiers of the 761st Tank Battalion were there, and the US Army does not recognize the 761st as liberators of any of the Nazi camps. Only divisions can be officially honored as liberators; the 71st Division is credited with being the liberators of the Mauthausen sub-camp, called Gunskirchen, in Austria, where starving prisoners were set free and allowed to plunder the nearby town of Lambach.
The soldiers in the 761st Tank Battalion were all African-Americans; the title of the book and the PBS film refers to the fact that black soldiers had to fight discrimination by Americans on the home front, while at the same time, they were fighting on the battle front in Europe to end the racial discrimination by the Nazis.
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar saw the 1992 PBS documentary and decided to do some research on the subject. With the help of the United Jewish Federation and researchers in Israel, he learned that it was another all-black unit, the 183rd Combat Engineers Battalion, which had liberated Buchenwald, but the 761st Tank Battalion had liberated Dachau.
Soldiers of the 183rd Combat Entgineers Battalion at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945
The US Army credits the 6th Armored Division with the liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945; the 183rd Combat Engineers Battalion delivered some supplies five days later, too late to meet the requirement to be considered liberators of a camp. According to the rules, only a division which arrived within 48 hours, of the gates to a camp being opened, can claim that it participated in the liberation.
When Abdul-Jabbar discovered that his surrogate uncle, Leonard "Smitty" Smith, was with the 761st, he wrote a book, with the help of writer Anthony Walton. The book is entitled "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes."
According to Abdul-Jabbar's book, "Smitty" was riding in the first tank to go through the main gate at Dachau; one of "Smitty's" comrades saw a jar full of eyeballs at Dachau.
Although there are numerous photos of the liberation of Dachau, none of the photos show any tanks at Dachau that day. The 20th Armored Division of the U.S. Seventh Army arrived at Dachau on April 29, 1945, but their tanks were unable to cross the Amper river at Dachau because the bridge had been destroyed by the Germans. All the soldiers who were involved in the liberation of Dachau arrived at the camp on foot or in light vehicles that were able to cross a railroad bridge that had been only partially destroyed.
SS soldiers surrendered at the main gate into Dachau complex
The photo above shows the main gate at the Dachau complex on April 29, 1945, the day that SS soldiers at Dachau surrendered to the 42nd Infantry Division of the US Seventh Army. Note that there are no tanks in the photo.
The photo below shows 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrendering the camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden of the 42nd Infantry Division. No tanks in this picture either.
SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrenders camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden
General Charles Delestraint
General Charles Delestraint
On April 19, 1945, just 10 days before the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the US Seventh Army, General Charles Delestraint was allegedly executed at Dachau and his body was immediately burned in the crematorium. Once the acknowledged leader of the French political prisoners at Dachau, General Delestraint has long since faded into obscurity and the reason for his untimely death at Dachau remains a mystery. There are several unofficial reports, written by the survivors of Dachau, which describe the events on the day of his alleged execution, but no two agree.
According to "Bulletin de l'Amicale des Anciens de Dachau, No. 3. Octobre-Novembre 1945," written by French survivors of Dachau, Armand Kientzler testified at the first American Military Tribunal at Dachau that he had witnessed the execution of General Delestraint. Kientzler was a prisoner who worked as a gardener in the landscaped area near the crematorium where executions took place. He testified that 3 Frenchmen and 11 Czech officers were executed on April 19, 1945. He said that the SS men were drunk and laughing as they carried out the executions. Then General Delestraint was ordered to undress before he was shot twice from afar as he walked to the execution spot. However, other witnesses at the Dachau proceedings said that the General was not naked when he was shot.
François Goldschmitt, a priest from the town of Moselle who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote a book entitled "Zeugen des Abendlandes" in which he claimed that the General was cut down without having received the order to undress himself, contrary to the testimony of Armand Kientzler that Delestraint was completely nude when he was executed.
Goldschmitt wrote that, before the execution, SS man Franz Trenkle hit the General with his fist, knocking out several of his teeth. Then SS-Oberscharführer Theodor Bongartz shot Delestraint in the nape of the neck at close range. Trenkle and Bongartz were the two SS men at Dachau who did the shooting when an execution was ordered.
According to Goldschmitt, there is the same uncertainty about Delestraint's last words. Allegedly he shouted: "Long live France, long live de Gaulle," but there was no testimony at the Dachau proceedings about this.
Emil Erwin Mahl, a German criminal who was a Kapo at Dachau, testified at the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau that he was given the order to cremate the body of General Delestraint immediately and to burn his clothing, papers and personal possessions. Mahl was not one of the prisoners who normally worked in the crematorium and the ovens had been cold for months because of the shortage of coal.
Emil Erwin Mahl is identified in the courtroom at Dachau
Strangely, there are no official documents in the Dachau archives which mention General Delestraint's execution, according to Albert Knoll, a staff member at the Dachau Memorial Site. When the Dachau camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, the only document concerning General Delestraint that was found among the camp records was a paper dated 13 March 1945 which stated that General Charles Delestraint's name should be added to the list of prominent prisoners at Dachau. The prominent prisoners were housed in the bunker and were given special privileges. Up until that time, General Delestraint had been an ordinary prisoner in Kommandantur-Arrest at Dachau; he had been housed in one of the barracks along with the other political prisoners.
By all accounts, General Delestraint had been a model prisoner at Dachau, not a trouble maker. Born on March 12, 1879, he was 66 years old when he was allegedly executed, only a week before the honor prisoners were evacuated to the South Tyrol for their own safety on April 26, 1945.
There was no order for General Delestraint's execution found among the official documents at Dachau, according to Albert Knoll. There are 2000 pages of the Dachau trial transcripts in the Dachau Archive, but there has never been a detailed analysis of the pages. In the sentencing of the Dachau staff members who were convicted by the American Military Tribunal, there were no specific crimes mentioned.
In May 1945, a few days after the liberation of the camp, The Official Report by the US Seventh Army was published. This report was based on interviews with 20 prisoners in the Dachau camp. In the first few pages, the report mentioned the "so-called honorary prisoners, the famous political and religious hostages they held at Dachau," who had been evacuated before the camp was liberated, but it did not mention General Charles Delestraint. The report did list several of the important prisoners: the Rev. Martin Niemöller, one of the founders of the Confessional Church; Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Chancellor of Austria before the Anschluss; Edouard Daladier, the French Premier at the time of the German invasion, and Leon Blum, the former Jewish Premier of France.
However, a report by Captain Tresnel, the French liaison officer with the US Third Army who arrived after the liberation, mentioned that he had immediately begun an investigation into the "murder of General Delestraint."
On May 9, 1965, a new Museum was opened in the former Dachau concentration camp under the supervision of the Comité International de Dachau. No photos of General Delestraint, nor any information about his death, were included in the Museum displays, a strange oversight considering that General Delestraint had been a leading member of Committee before his sudden execution, just ten days before the camp was liberated.
In 1978, a catalog was published by the Comité International de Dachau, Brussels for sale to visitors to the Museum; it contained photos of the exhibits including photos of documents on display in the Museum. The documents that can be seen in this catalog include a list of 31 Russian prisoners of war who were executed on February 22, 1944 and a list of 90 Russian prisoners of war who were executed on September 4, 1944. The Catalog mentions that 55 Poles were executed in November 1940 and that "Thousands of Soviet Russian prisoners of war" were executed in 1941/1942 but does not list their names. On the same page is the information that "General Delestraint and 11 Czechoslovakian officers" were executed in April 1945, with no exact date given. The other two French prisoners who were executed on the same day as General Delestraint's execution, according to the eye-witness testimony of Armand Kientzler, are not mentioned in the Catalog.
In May 2003, a new exhibit in the Dachau Museum opened. There is a section in the new museum about the prisoners from each country; the French section includes General Charles Delestraint.
During the first American Military Tribunal proceedings at Dachau in November 1945, one of the accused, Johann Kick, testified that, as the chief of the political department and a member of the Gestapo, he was responsible for registering prisoners, keeping files and death certificates, and the notification of relatives. He testified that executions at Dachau could only be ordered by the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, and that after the executions were carried out, it was his job to notify the Security Office and the family of the deceased.
In the case of Nacht und Nebel prisoners, which included General Delestraint, the families were not notified of the death of their loved ones. The family of General Delestraint was not notified about his death by the Reich Security Office, nor by the political department at Dachau, nor by the American liberators. His daughter first learned about her father's death when she saw it in a newspaper on May 9, 1945, the day after the war in Europe ended. The prisoners at Dachau had informed the reporters who covered the liberation of the camp about General Delestraint's death, but apparently had not given this information to the US Seventh Army investigators.
What was the motive for the alleged execution of General Delestraint at such a late date, when the war was nearly over? Who wanted him dead and why? Who benefited from his death? Why was the execution order from Berlin never found?
Here is some background on the General which might provide answers to these questions:
Before he was arrested by the Gestapo on June 9, 1943, General Delestraint had been the commander of the French Armée Secret, reporting directly to Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the French Resistancewho was living in exile in London. The French Secret Army was created in 1942, on the initiative of Jean Moulin, to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans who had been occupying France since the French surrendered in June 1940.
Jean Moulin, the greatest hero of the French Resistance, was arrested around the same time as General Delestraint; he had been allegedly betrayed by René Hardy, a member of the resistance group called Combat. The betrayal was allegedly motivated by a plan to prevent the Communist Resistance fighters from taking over the French Secret Army. Henri Frenay, the head of Combat, suspected that Moulin was a secret Communist sympathizer who wanted to put the Secret Army, commanded by General Delestraint, under Communist control.
After being imprisoned for months in a Gestapo prison at Fresnes, General Delestraint was sent in March 1944 to Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp in Alsace, where he remained until the camp had to be evacuated.
In September 1944, the prisoners from the Natzweiler-Struthof camp were brought to Dachau, as Allied troops advanced towards the heart of Germany. Among these prisoners were many Communist and anti-Fascist resistance fighters from France, Belgium and Norway, as well as 5 British SOE agents, all of whom had been classified as "Nacht und Nebel" prisoners. This term, which means "Night and Fog" in English, was used for the prisoners who were not allowed to communicate with their friends and families, nor to send or receive mail. They had been made to disappear into the night and the mist, a term borrowed from Goethe, a famous German writer. Their families were not notified about what had happened to them. The purpose of this secrecy was to discourage resistance activity in the countries occupied by Germany, since the families assumed that their loved ones had been killed.
The N.N. prisoners also did not work outside the camp, in the fields or factories, for fear that this would give them the opportunity to escape. They were given cushy jobs inside the prison enclosure at Dachau; several were assigned to work as hospital orderlies.
The prisoner with the highest rank among the N.N. prisoners, who were brought from Natzweiler to Dachau, was General Delestraint. At first, the General was housed in the barracks at Dachau, along with the regular prisoners, rather than being put among the important prisoners in the bunker, because the SS allegedly did not know that he was a French war hero. During World War I, Delestraint had been the commanding officer of Charles de Gaulle, who became the leader of the French resistance and Delestraint's commanding officer after France surrendered in World War II.
A transport train with 905 prisoners from the Natzweiler camp, which included General Delestraint, arrived at the Dachau camp on September 6, 1944. All of the French prisoners from Natzweiler were classified as Nacht und Nebel prisoners, but they wore red triangles on their uniforms, designating them as "political prisoners,"just like most of the Dachau prisoners. The letters NN were painted on the back of their prison shirts in order to easily identify them in the camp.
According to Paul Berben, a Dachau prisoner who wrote the official history of the camp, General Delestraint wore a red triangle with the letter F for French on it, and the number 103.027 on a white patch above the triangle.
General Delestraint was assigned to Block 24, a wooden barrack building located near the north end of the camp. He kept in contact with the other prisoners from Natzweiler, including British SOE agent Lt. Robert Sheppard, who was also in Block 24.
The SS guards addressed the General as "Herr General," although this was a term of derision, not respect, according to Robert Sheppard. General Delestraint lived just like the other prisoners, as the SS apparently didn't know, or didn't care, about his important status. In effect, he became an anonymous prisoner, although he was recognized by the other inmates as the leader of the French prisoners.
Another prisoner who arrived in the same convoy from Natzweiler was Gabriel Piguet, the archbishop of Clermont-Ferrand. As soon as Piguet learned that the General was in Dachau, he gave him the title of the leader of the Frenchmen in the camp and put himself under the orders of Delestraint. Edouard Daladier, the former Premier of France, was also a prisoner at Dachau, but he was housed with the VIP prisoners in the bunker, not in the regular barracks.
According to Edmond Michelet, another Dachau prisoner who wrote a book about the camp, entitled "La Rue de la Liberté," General Delestraint was accessible to all the prisoners, even the non-French; he would counsel the younger prisoners, and restore the confidence of those that despaired. Michelet described the General as witty and optimistic, with a dignified manner and an energetic voice; his deep blue eyes had a look of goodness. He was the leader of political discussions in Block 24, always assuring the others of the eventual victory of the Allies. He loved music and delighted in singing songs from light opera.
According to an article which Robert Sheppard wrote on the occasion of General Delestraint being honored by having his name entered at the Pantheon on 10 November 1989, General Delestraint would get up early every morning, before the other prisoners arose, so that he could wash himself and get ready for the day, before the washroom became crowded with the other prisoners. As his aide de camp, Robert Sheppard would accompany him to the washroom. Then the General would go to Block 26, the chapel of the Catholic priests at Dachau, where he would attend the first Mass of the day and receive Holy Communion in order to keep up his spirits and his morale.
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a Munich bishop who was an honor prisoner in the Dachau bunker, wrote in his book "What was it like in the Concentration Camp in Dachau?" that General Delestraint served as an altar boy every day for Bishop Piguet when he said Holy Mass in Block 26.
According to Robert Sheppard, in January 1945, General Delestraint conspired with himself and another SOE agent Albert Guérisse (aka Pat O'Leary), Arthur Haulot, a journalist who later became a member of the Belgian Parliament, and Edmond Michelet, a leader of the French resistance, to set up the International Committee of Dachau. However, The Official Report by the US Seventh Army, based on information given by 20 prisoners, said that the origins of the International Prisoners Committee dated back to September 1944 when a small group of inmates employed in the Camp Hospital first got together. According to this report, the nucleus of the Committee consisted of an Albanian (Kuci), a Pole (Nazewsi), a Belgian (Haulot) and a British-Canadian (O'Leary).
The Committee members included one representative from each of 14 different countries. Its purpose was to organize a resistance movement in the camp in case the SS had plans to kill all the prisoners before the Allies arrived to liberate them, as it was rumored. To facilitate this, the Committee attempted to obtain and hide weapons. The Committee also worked to resolve conflicts between the various ethnic groups and the 17 nationalities in the camp and to maintain solidarity among the political prisoners, most of whom were Communists. They began to prepare for the Liberation of the camp and the problems that would exist afterwards when all the prisoners would have to be repatriated to their respective countries. The Committee remained active long after the war, planning and overseeing the Memorial Site and Museum at Dachau.
According to Robert Sheppard, the beginning of the International Committee coincided with the typhus epidemic in the camp, which began in December 1944. When he contracted typhus, General Delestraint was moved to Block 25, the quarantine block, until he recovered and was brought back to Block 24 at the end of January 1945. However, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, an honor prisoner in the bunker, wrote that General Delestraint was transferred to the bunker "at the beginning of 1945." The bunker was the camp prison which contained private cells where the important prisoners were housed.
In his article of 10 November 1989, Robert Sheppard gave the following details of the incident which led to the murder of General Delestraint at Dachau on 19 April 1945:
At the Dachau camp, the General had the job of "hilfschreiber," or assistant secretary of Block 24. Since the N.N. prisoners were not allowed to work outside the camp, jobs had to be found for them in the barracks or the camp facilities. Robert Sheppard was the canteen representative for Block 24.
Although, by 1945, the camp canteen had virtually nothing left to sell to the prisoners, each block still had a representative whose job it was to visit the canteen to make purchases on behalf of all the prisoners in his block. The inmates received camp money for their work, which they could use to buy personal items or food in the canteen. All but the N.N. prisoners were allowed to receive money from their families, which was exchanged for camp money.
The SS made a daily check on the N.N. prisoners, which usually took place in the middle of the morning or the afternoon while the other prisoners were away working in the factories located just outside the camp. At this daily roll call for the N.N. prisoners, the SS guard would ask each prisoner which block he lived in, his prisoner number and his function in the camp.
One day during the usual roll call, Delestraint was asked the usual question regarding his function or job in the camp, and he replied "General." The SS man appeared to be surprised, but he continued the roll call, after making lengthy notes, according to Sheppard.
Sheppard wrote that, immediately after this incident, orders were received from Berlin that General Delestraint was to be transferred to the "Herrenbunker," the camp prison, that was reserved for the very important prisoners. Prisoners in the bunker had individual cells with a toilet, and they were not required to work. Their cells were left unlocked during the day and all but the N.N. prisoners were allowed to receive visitors. However, all of the other accounts of the story refer to the bunker as the Ehrenbunker, which means Honor bunker.
According to Sheppard, on April 19, 1945, the secretary of Block 24 received the exit card of General Delestraint which said "Ausgang durch Tot," or Exit through Death. Instead of being transferred to the bunker, General Delestraint had been assassinated because of his arrogance and audacity when he said that his function in the camp was that of a General. In this version of the story, General Delestraint was living in Block 24 until April 19, 1945. Other accounts say that he was moved to the bunker in January 1945. The only official document still in existence, which mentions General Charles Delestraint, is the order to transfer the General to the honor bunker, which was dated March 13, 1945.
Joseph Rovan, a prisoner who wrote a book about Dachau, told the same story with a slight variation. He said that General Delestraint had to go to the hospital barrack on the morning of the day of the incident and he was late getting to the roll call. When he arrived, the SS man spoke to him roughly. General Delestraint assumed a military posture and the SS man asked him his rank, to which Delestraint replied "General of the Army."
Nerin E. Gun, another Dachau prisoner who wrote a book entitled "The Day of the Americans," got his information about the incident from Edmond Michelet, an N.N. prisoner who was a good friend of General Delestraint. According to Michelet's version of the story, as told to Gun, an SS Inspector was at the roll call that day and General Delestraint was standing in the front row of the prisoners assembled at Block 24. The SS Colonel noticed this small Frenchman with white hair who was walking at a brisk pace. "What is your profession?" he asked him, to which Delestraint replied "General of the French army." Then he added that he was under the command of General de Gaulle who had recently been under his orders. Nerin E. Gun then asks himself: Did the Gestapo know that Delestraint was a leader in the French Resistance? Was there a delay in the transmission of an order from Berlin?" In any case, shortly after this incident, General Delestraint was transferred to the honor bunker, according to Nerin E. Gun's book.
However, Michelet claims in his book entitled "La Rue de la Liberté," that he was at the hospital barrack that day and did not witness the incident. Michelet says that he got his information from Louis Konrath, a native of the province of Lorraine who watched over the General in Block 24 and protected him.
Here is the testimony of Louis Konrath, as told to Edmond Michelet:
An SS Colonel, who was an inspector, visited the camp that day and observed the prisoners, who did not have to work outside the camp, lined up in front of block 24. General Delestraint attracted the attention of the SS Colonel who asked him "Wer bist du?"to which Delestraint replied "General of the French army," then added "And under the command of General de Gaulle, who was under my command."
Michelet wrote in his book "La Rue de la Liberté," that several friends of the General were worried about him when they learned about the incident. And among them, the Communists, who wanted to protect the General, thought that he should go under cover while awaiting the liberation of the camp, according to Michelet. Delestraint was not a Communist; he was loyal to General de Gaulle, who was planning to become the leader of France after the war and to prevent a Communist takeover of the country.
According to Michelet, Roger Linet, a Communist prisoner, went to see the General in block 24 and proposed that he should enter the Revier, the hospital block, under some pretext, and as soon as a French prisoner there died, an extremely frequent occurrence, General Delestraint should assume his identity; he would then exchange his prison number for the number of the deceased prisoner. The General would be declared dead in the Revier, while, still living, he could be concealed until the Liberation. This would be, according to Linet, a comparatively easy operation. The General appeared to hesitate: he was not pleased with the idea of going into hiding. But then the problem was resolved when the General was transferred to the Ehrenbunker, according to Michelet. Later the prisoners reproached themselves because they had not carried out their plan, although Delestraint would have refused in any case.
There is considerable disagreement about the date that General Delestraint was ordered to be moved to the bunker, although all accounts agree that this happened soon after the incident at the roll call. None of the accounts, written by the former Dachau prisoners, mention that the date of his transfer to the bunker was March 13, 1945, which is the date on the official document that ordered the move from the barracks to the prison where the prominent prisoners were housed. According to both Michelet and Neuhäusler, the General was moved to the bunker in January 1945, but Robert Sheppard claims that the General left the camp hospital barrack in January 1945 and went back to Block 24 where he was active in organizing the C.I.D., the Comité International de Dachau. After the roll call incident, Delestraint's fellow prisoners were worried about him because his anonymity had been pierced. They thought that the Gestapo had not known of Delestraint's high rank in the Resistance, and that he would be executed now that they had found out.
When other important prisoners, such as Léon Blum and Kurt von Schuschnigg, were transferred from Buchenwald to Dachau on April 4, 1945, some of the prisoners in the bunker had to be moved to an annex. General Delestraint was assigned to the annex, along with Archbishop Piguet and the Rev. Martin Niemöller, according to Bishop Neuhäusler. The annex was a wooden barrack building that had formerly been used as the camp brothel.
Dr. Franz Blaha, a Czech medical doctor and a Communist, was a prominent member of the International Committee at Dachau. Dr. Blaha was the only prisoner to give testimony for the prosecution about the Dachau gas chamber at both the Nuremberg IMT and the Dachau proceedings. However, there was no testimony whatsoever at the Nuremberg IMT about the execution of General Delestraint at Dachau since this war crime was not even mentioned by the prosecution.
Regarding the medical facilities at Dachau, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler wrote the following in his book entitled "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?", published in 1960:
Prisoners staffed the infirmary. Some of them were army surgeons. Others were persons of different nationalities, who knew practically nothing about the care of the sick. From 1942 onward imprisoned physicians were also allowed to assist in the infirmary. The medical staff was headed by the infirmary Capo on whom the treatment of the patient depended. A perverse infirmary Capo would do away with sick prisoners without telling the SS doctor on duty, using injections and tortures of his own devising.
One of the Dachau prisoners who worked in the infirmary was Albert Guérisse; he was a doctor of medicine, although the camp staff members did not know this.
In an article published in the Smithsonian Magazine in October 1993, Robert Warnick wrote about the famous incident when the General gave his rank instead of his function during a roll call. Warnick had obtained his information about the fate of General Delestraint from Johnny Hopper, one of the 5 SOE agents who had survived Mauthausen, Natzweiler and Dachau. According to Hopper: "Later the loudspeakers boomed out an order for the prisoner Delestraint to report immediately to the camp headquarters. Every one assumed that they wanted him to work out a deal with the approaching Americans. But they hanged him instead."
However, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler's account of the execution of General Delestraint differs from the story as told by Robert Sheppard and Johnny Hopper. Dr. Neuhäusler wrote that Piguet and Delestraint had arrived together on the convoy from Natzweiler, a bit of information that he got from a book called "Leben auf Widerruf," written by a Dachau prisoner named Joos. In his own book, Dr. Neuhäusler wrote the following about the death of General Delestraint:
At the beginning of 1945 both (Piguet and Delestraint) were brought from the general camp to the "bunker" and then transferred in April 1945 as we had been to the "barrack" which the prisoners tenderly called the "girls' high school", but from which the inmates, however, had been transferred, because of the Americans. (The girls' high school was the camp brothel.)
On April 19, 1945, the General served the Bishop's Mass. This he had done in an exemplary manner every day since I had succeeded, after energetic protests, in obtaining for the Bishop(Piguet) the right to celebrate Mass in our emergency chapel. (Initially, only the Germans wereallowed to say Mass at Dachau.) During the Holy Mass of that day, an "Untersturmführer" (under-commandant) came in and said: "The General must pack at once." Calmly the General went away, packed a few things and came back to receive Holy Communion. His last Holy Communion!
After Mass I asked the "Untersturmführer": "What is wrong with the General?" - "Ah", he answered lightly, "he is going to Innsbruck, as all of you are. We have just a small bus with eight seats with only seven people. Now we are taking the General with us." Three hours later, Delestraint was shot together with three other French prisoners and eleven Czechoslovakian officers. As Joos "Leben auf Widerruf", page 156 says, he walked towards the wall, naked, his head held high. Before he reached it, two pistol shots had laid him low. He died as a soldier and as a pious Christian."
Albert Knoll confirms that the honor prisoners were first taken to Innsbruck, and then to the South Tyrol, but they left on April 26, 1945. Protestant Pastor Martin Niemöller and a few members of the Catholic clergy, including Bishop Neuhäusler, and were released on April 24th and allowed to find their own way to safety. No prominent prisoners left Dachau on April 19, 1945, according to Knoll.
According to a book, written in French, by J. F. Perrette, entitled "Le General Delestraint," testimony given at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau after the war supports Neuhäusler's story. According to this testimony, it was very early in the morning on April 19, 1945 that SS-Hauptscharführer Eichberger received the order of execution, signed by SS-Obersturmbanführer Schäfer. Eichberger gave the order to his superior officer SS-Obersturmführer Wilhelm Ruppert, who was in charge of executions at Dachau. At 8:30 a.m. on April 19th, SS-Oberscharführer Fritz went to Block 26 where he found the General serving mass for Archbishop Piguet. He instructed the General to prepare to depart immediately in a convoy.
According to Perrette's book, Eichberger verified the General's identity and told him that he was to be liberated. Delestraint was taken to the Ehrenbunker where he changed into a blue suit. As he left the bunker, Delestraint saw the two SS men waiting for him; he asked to return to block 26, where Piguet was still saying Mass. As he was being escorted down the Lagerstrasse, or the camp road, by the two SS men, Delestraint met a friend who lived in block 24 and told him: "It appears that I am liberated!" He went back into block 26 to receive Holy Communion from the hands of the Bishop. The two men then kissed and said their farewells.
Perrette wrote that the SS men next accompanied Delestraint to the Ehrenbunker again, where he picked up his suitcase. SS-Obersturmführer Ruppert was waiting there for him and, out of deference to his rank, carried Delestraint's suitcase. They walked to the Jourhaus, the administration building at the gate of the camp, where General Delestraint was taken to the office of SS-Obersturmführer Johannes Otto, the adjutant to the Commandant. According to Perrete's book, Ruppert informed Otto of the execution, specifying that the order must be carried out immediately.
As the SS men and Delestraint left the Jourhaus, they met some prisoners, and SS-Unterscharführer Edgar Stiller joined them. After exiting the camp through the gate at the Jourhaus, the group walked on a path outside the camp, along the canal that forms the western border of the camp. As they approached the crematorium, which is outside the camp, SS-Hauptscharführer Pongratz and an SS man named Boomgaerts joined them, according to Perrete's account of the testimony at the American Military Tribunal; Ruppert then left the group and the others proceeded to the crematorium, which is only a few yards from where Delestraint was alleged executed.
Perrete was undoubtedly mistaken about the SS man named Boomgaerts. There was a British SOE agent from Belgium, named Boogaerts, who was prisoner at Dachau, but there was also an SS man named Theodor Bongartz at Dachau, according to François Goldschmitt, a prisoner who wrote a book about the camp.
Theodor Bongartz's name was mentioned during the American Military Tribunal proceedings in the testimony of Otto Edward Jendrian, a German prisoner at Dachau, who said that he had seen Bongartz shoot French officers up to the rank of General. Jendrian referred to Bongartz as the head of the crematorium.
Although Bongartz was not on trial, and was, in fact, dead, the other staff members at Dachau were responsible for any war crimes committed by him because the charge against all of the accused was "participating in a common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War according to the Geneva Convention." They were responsible for acts committed by Bongartz, even if they had not served at the same time in the camp.
Ruppert is identified in the courtroom at Dachau
The photo above shows Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, standing on the right, as he was identified in the courtroom at Dachau by prosecution witness Michael Pellis. Ruppert was in charge of executions at Dachau; he was convicted by the American Military Tribunal and hanged on May 29, 1946.
At the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss testified that there were no executions of camp prisoners while he was the Commandant of Dachau between September 1942 and the end of October 1943. He claimed that only people who were brought in from the outside by officers of the State Police (the Gestapo) were executed during the time that he was the Commandant. Weiss also testified that while he was the Commandant, there were no executions by shooting, only by hanging. Dr. Neuhäusler confirms in his book that individual executions at Dachau were carried out by hanging, and British SOE agent Johnny Hopper's version of the story is that General Delestraint was hanged.
The photo below shows a stone marker at the spot in front of the Dachau crematorium building where prisoners were executed by hanging.
Memorial Stone at the site where prisoners were hanged
According to Edmond Michelet's book "La Rue de la Liberté" which means The Street of Liberty in English, the important prisoners in the bunker were regularly allowed to have a massage while an SS man stood guard. It was during these massage sessions that the Dachau honor prisoners discussed the plans of the International Committee of Dachau, while the unsuspecting SS man was not paying any attention to them.
On April 19, 1945, Michelet and the Rev. Martin Niemöller were expecting General Delestraint to join them for a massage in the camp infirmary, according to Michelet. Then they heard two gun shots and Niemöller remarked on the fact that the Nazis continued to murder the prisoners right up to the last day.
Theodor Bongartz, shown in the photo above, is believed to be the man who carried out the secret execution of General Charles Delestraint.
Michelet wrote that on the evening of April 19th, a French prisoner came to him to give him the prisoner card of the General so that he could record it. The card read "Abgang durch Tod." The cause of death was "heart failure." According to Michelet, this was the usual cause of death given when prisoners were shot or hanged. Michelet was at this time living in the Ehrenbunker; Robert Sheppard claims that the General's prisoner card was delivered to Block 24 after he was executed, and that the card read "Ausgang durch Tod," which means Exit through Death.
After the death of General Delestraint, Michelet was the next in line to become the leader of the French prisoners. He survived Dachau and became the French Minister of Justice after the war. He continued to be active in the International committee, making sure that the mass graves of the prisoners were maintained and that the site of their suffering was treated with respect.
A group of French survivors of Dachau paid an annual visit to the camp in June, led by Edmond Michelet. A statue of an "Unknown Prisoner" was erected near the crematorium, but strangely, no memorial to Michelet's good friend General Delestraint was ever placed at Dachau.
Stone designates the spot where prisoners were executed
The photo above shows a stone which marks the Pistol Range in the woods behind the crematorium at Dachau where General Delestraint was allegedly shot. There is no marker there to inform visitors of his death.
General Delestraint was finally honored in France, through the efforts of British SOE agent Robert Sheppard, when his name was added to the list of the great men of France at the Pantheon on 10 November 1989, the day after the Berlin wall came down, signaling the fall of Communism. In bronze letters on a plaque is an inscription which reads:
A LA MEMOIRE DU GENERAL DELESTRAINT
CHEF DE L'ARMEE SECRETE
COMPAGNON DE LA LIBERATION
British SOE Agents executed at Dachau
On the south wall of the crematorium at the former Dachau concentration camp, right next to one of the ovens, hangs a plaque honoring four British SOE agents: Noor Inayat Khan, Yolanda Beekman, Elaine Plewman, and Madeleine Damerment.
Plaque on wall to the left of crematory oven
The wording on the plaque, honoring the SOE agents, reads as follows:
Here in Dachau on the 12th of September,
1944, four young woman officers of the
British forces attached to Special Operations
Branch were brutally murdered and their bodies
cremated. They died as gallantly as they had
served the Resistance in France during the
common struggle for freedom from tyranny.
This recognition was a long time coming. For 20 years after the war, there was no memorial for those who died at Dachau. Then, on May 9, 1965, a large Museum opened in the former Dachau concentration camp on the initiative of, and according to, the plans of the Comité International de Dachau, an organization of former prisoners.
In 1978, a catalog was published by the Comité International de Dachau in Brussels for sale to visitors to the Museum; it contained photos of the exhibits including photos of documents on display in the Museum. But nowhere in the Museum, nor in the catalog, was there any documentation about the four women of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) who were "brutally murdered" at Dachau on the 12th of September 1944. Not until 1975, when this plaque was put up, was there any mention of them at all at the Dachau Memorial site.
In 1958, an anonymous former Dutch prisoner at Dachau contacted author Jean Overton Fuller after reading her biography of Noor Inayat Khan. He claimed to have witnessed the execution of Noor Inayat Khan on September 12, 1994 at Dachau. According to his story, this anonymous prisoner had seen a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert, whom he mistakenly called a "sadistic guard," undress Noor and then beat her all over her body until she was a "bloody mess" before personally shooting her in the back of the head. Although the execution spot at Dachau was outside the camp and hidden by trees and bushes, this Dutch prisoner was allowed to get close enough so that he could see everything and hear Noor cry out "Liberté" just before she died.
Stone designates the spot where prisoners were executed
The photo above shows a stone which marks the execution spot in the woods behind the crematorium at Dachau where the four British SOE agents were allegedly shot. In front of the shrubbery is the "blood ditch" which was designed to catch the blood after a prisoner was shot in the neck from behind.
On March 1, 2006, a non-fiction book about Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu, entitled "The Spy Princess," was published; the date of Noor's alleged execution at Dachau is given as September 13, 1944, the date that is in the files of the British Public Record Office. The discrepancy in the date of the alleged execution is due to the fact that there are no official records whatsoever of the execution of any female British SOE agents. There is more evidence that Elvis is still alive than there is evidence that these four women were executed at Dachau.
In answer to an e-mail query, I received a response from Albert Knoll, a staff member at the Dachau Memorial Site, in which he said that any documents about the execution of the four SOE agents in the Dachau concentration camp, if they ever existed, had been destroyed by the SS shortly before the liberation of the camp.
Arthur Haulot, a former Belgian prisoner at Dachau and one of the prominent members of the CID, told Sarah Helm, the author of a biography of SOE officer Vera Atkins, entitled "A Life in Secrets," that he had never heard any mention of these women while he was in the camp. Haulot was having an affair with a German nurse in the camp, according to his Diary, and he was in a unique position to know what was going on. According to Sarah Helm's book, "No witnesses had been interrogated who had seen anything at all of these women inside Dachau concentration camp."
There is nothing about the "brutal murder" of these four SOE women in the trial transcripts of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau because no member of the camp staff was ever charged with this crime. The man in charge of executions at Dachau, Wilhelm Ruppert, was charged with a war crime by the Tribunal for carrying out executions ordered by the Reich Security Home Office (RSHA) in Berlin, but at the time of his trial in November 1945, the Allies knew nothing about the "brutal murder" of these four female spies at Dachau, because no documents about their execution were ever found.
Noor Inayat Khan
Close-up of plaque on wall of Dachau crematorium
In 1975, a similar plaque was hung in the crematorium at the former Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace where four other women SOE agents were allegedly killed by lethal injection on July 6, 1944 and their bodies were burned in the one crematory oven. Their names are Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden, Andrée Borrel and Sonia Olschanezky. Legend has it that Andrée Borrel was burned alive, although according to hearsay testimony given in a British Military Court, she fought heroically and scratched the face of her executioner, scarring him for life.
The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British organization started by Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton in July 1940, shortly after France signed an Armistice with Germany. Its purpose was to aid partisans and resistance fighters in France and other conquered countries that were occupied by Germany during World War II. Also called Churchill's Secret Army, its directive was to "set Europe ablaze."
The largest group of spies in the SOE was the F section which operated in France; it was headed by Major Maurice Buckmaster. The majority of the women agents were in the French section, including the four agents who were allegedly killed at Dachau.
Noor Inayat Khan was a wireless operator for the Cinema sub circuit of the Physician Network, headed by Francis Suttill, whose code name was Prosper. She was flown to France on a RAF Lysander plane on the night of June 16, 1943 and was captured on or around October 1, 1943.
Eliane Plewman was a courier for the Monk Network, headed by Charles Stepper. She parachuted into France on August 13, 1943 and was captured in March 1944.
Yolanda Beekman was a wireless operator for the Musician Network. She left England in an RAF Lysander plane on September 18, 1943 and was captured on January 12, 1944.
Madeleine Damerment was sent to be a courier for the Bricklayer Network. She parachuted into France on the night of February 28, 1944 and was arrested by the Gestapo the moment that she landed.
To the British, the SOE agents were heroes who helped to liberate Europe from Fascism by means of espionage and sabotage, but to the Germans the SOE agents were "terrorists," operating illegally to help the French resistance "bandits" to destroy factories, blow up troop trains and worst of all, to delay German Panzer divisions from reaching Normandy until it was too late to stop the Allied invasion of Europe. The SOE supplied arms, money and food for the insurgents fighting the Nazis. It was a secret organization because it was against international law to provide military aid to countries that had laid down their arms and signed an Armistice, promising to stop fighting.
Women were not recruited for the British SOE until April 1942, according to Sarah Helm's book entitled "A Life in Secrets." The problem was that the statutes of the British Army, Navy and Royal Air Force barred women from armed combat, so there was no legal authority for women to engage in guerrilla warfare.
As insurgents, operating behind enemy lines in civilian clothing, the SOE agents did not have the same protection as POWs under international law. If caught, they could be legally executed as spies. Women were especially vulnerable because the 1929 Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare made no provision at all for protecting women, as women were not envisioned as combatants.
To get around the rules, the women agents were commissioned in a civilian organization called the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) during the time they were operating as guerrilla fighters.
Churchill himself secretly approved the deployment of women as SOE agents. The British military did not want women in the SOE working as spies, but the senior officers in the SOE thought that women would be ideally suited to be couriers since they could move about freely without creating suspicion. According to Sarah Helm's book, "If the use of women as guerrillas leaked out, the policy would have to be denied."
As soon as France was liberated in August 1944, Buckmaster's assistant, Vera Atkins, took it upon herself to find out what had happened to the missing agents whom she had supervised as they prepared to drop by parachute, or land in a small plane, in enemy territory. According to Sarah Helm's book, Atkins encountered resistance from the SOE: Atkins wanted to circulate the names of the missing agents widely so that, when the concentration camps were liberated, they would be found. But according to Sarah Helm's book, "On sight of Vera's memo, John Senter, head of SOE's security directorate, commissioned as a commander in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, immediately pulled rank, saying her search should, in effect, be stopped."
Circulating the names of the missing women would have revealed to the enemy that secret missions had taken place and that rules had been broken to carry out these missions. Irregular combatants in civilian clothes, which was what the women SOE agents were, did not have protection under the Geneva Convention.
After the war, the SOE was disbanded but Vera Atkins secured a commission as a flight officer in the WAAF, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, which allowed her to continue her work in searching for the missing agents. If she had not volunteered to look for the missing SOE agents, their files would have been closed and marked "missing and presumed dead," when the SOE ceased to exist in 1946.
The names of the women in the SOE were not publicly known until long after the war. In 1948, the names of Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman were revealed for the first time when they were included among the 52 women honored by a plaque placed at St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge. The name of Noor Inayat Khan was not publicly known until 1949 when she was awarded the George Cross.
For years, the British kept the very existence of the SOE secret. By 1946, the SOE had closed down and all of its files were sealed. A mysterious fire in 1946 had destroyed many of the files. The surviving agents were instructed never to talk about their war-time experiences. The files of the SOE were kept secret from the public until 1998 when some of the documents were finally released. More of the files were opened to the public between 2003 and 2006.
The file on the "brutal murder" of the four women at Dachau was released to the public in 2003, and since then, no effort has been spared by the British to make these agents, especially Noor Inayat Khan, into the greatest heroes of World War II.
I sent an e-mail query to the office where the Public Record Office files are kept and received a response from Dr. Graham Macklin.
According to Dr. Graham Macklin, there is no documentation whatsoever in the British SOE files on the alleged executions of women agents at Natzweiler and Dachau. All of the information about the executions came from interviews done during various investigations.
Dr. Macklin stated the following in his e-mail to me:
According to the 'Report on the killing of seven British officers, French section M.O.I (S.P) in Germany 1944 (Karlsruhe Gestapo)' in WO 311/293, a post-war SOE investigation into these murders conclusively established that 'the victims had been held for sometime at Karlsruhe' prior to their murder in Dachau and Natzweiler. Nor does this information appear to rest solely on the testimony of Kriminalsekretaer Christian Ott. The various depositions within this file indicate that the information that these women were executed in Dachau and Natzweiler was based on a widespread investigation drawn from a variety of sources.
Note that Dr. Macklin refers to the report of "seven British officers" in the French section who were held by the Karlsruhe Gestapo, not eight. The eighth woman was Noor Inayat Khan, alias Nora Baker, who was held as a Nacht und Nebel prisoner at Pforzheim prison, 15 miles from Karlsruhe, because she had made two escape attempts. She was kept in chains most of the time and not allowed to communicate with anyone in the outside world. There is no record of her being brought to the Karlsruhe prison, from where Gestapo agents Christian Ott and Max Wassmer allegedly escorted four women to Dachau to be executed. Much of the information about the deaths of the women came from Christian Ott, who was imprisoned by the Allies at Dachau after the war as a possible war criminal.
When Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, there were at least six male British SOE agents among the prisoners including Johnny Hopper, Robert Sheppard, Brian Stonehouse and Albert Guérisse. After surviving Mauthausen and Natzweiler, two concentration camps that were much worse than Dachau, they had been brought to Dachau on September 6, 1944, less than a week before the women were allegedly executed.
Madeleine Damerment had previously worked for two years with the PAT line which Albert Guérisse headed before he was captured. Later, she was assigned to be a courier for the Bricklayer line, but was captured by the Gestapo on the same day that she parachuted into France.
On the day that Dachau was liberated, there was one American in the camp, Lt. Rene Guiraud, a spy in the OSS, the US military intelligence organization. Rene Guiraud had been parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, along with a radio operator. His mission was to collect intelligence, harass German military units and occupation forces, sabotage critical war material facilities, and carry on other resistance activities. Guiraud organized 1500 guerrilla fighters and developed intelligence networks in Europe. During all this, Guiraud posed as a French citizen, wearing civilian clothing, which means that if he were caught, he would not be protected under the 1929 Geneva Convention. Guiraud was captured in France and interrogated for two months by the Gestapo, then sent to Dachau in September 1944, around the same time that the women were executed.
The work done by Albert Guérisse and Rene Guiraud for the French Resistance was far more important than anything that the women agents had ever done. Yet, Madeleine Damerment was executed, after being captured on the day that she landed in France, while Guérisse and Guiraud were allowed to live.
There were no male SOE agents executed at Dachau; on the contrary, the male British SOE prisoners were treated exceptionally well there. They did not have to work in the factories, nor on the farm at Dachau, but were instead given easy jobs inside the camp.
Albert Guérisse worked in the infirmary at Dachau, just as he had at Natzweiler. This gave him the opportunity to conspire with other Communist prisoners who worked in the infirmary in organizing a prisoner's committee which eventually took over the Dachau camp the day before it was liberated.
Brian Stonehouse, who later became an illustrator for Vogue magazine in civilian life, attributed his survival to the fact that the Nazis kept him alive for four and a half years in order to make use of his ability as an artist.
By some remarkable coincidence, Guérisse and Stonehouse had been sent to the Natzweiler camp shortly before four female SOE agents were executed there, and were then transferred to Dachau just days before four more female SOE agents were brought there to be executed.
Albert Guérisse is the second man from the left, wearing a sweater vest
Although there was a typhus epidemic at Dachau and all the prisoners were told that they had to remain inside the camp for several weeks, Stonehouse and Guérisse left for London a few days later. They were welcomed home by Vera Atkins, who had already started a search to find the missing agents that had been captured by the Gestapo. At that point, Atkins knew nothing about the alleged execution at Dachau, so she didn't ask about it and neither Guérisse nor Stonehouse mentioned it. Nor did Stonehouse and Guérisse say anything about witnessing the arrival of four women SOE agents at Natzweiler, which Atkins was already actively investigating.
According to Sarah Helm's biography of Vera Atkins, entitled "A Life in Secrets," Atkins went to the Karlsruhe prison on April 27, 1946 to examine the records of the SOE agents who had been imprisoned there for nine months before they were taken on July 6, 1944 to "einem KZ," meaning an unnamed concentration camp.
Atkins did not find Noor's name, nor her alias Nora Baker, in the Karlsruhe records, but when she discovered that "Sonia Olschanezky" was one of the women who had left on July 6, 1944, Atkins assumed that Noor had used a new alias, just as Madeleine Damerment had given the alias "Martine Dussautoy" at the prison. She was now positive that Noor Inayat Khan was one of the women who had left Karlsruhe on July 6th, bound for an unnamed concentration camp, which Atkins was sure was Natzweiler. At that point, Atkins had no idea that Noor Inayat Khan had been a prisoner at Pforzheim, not Karlsruhe. Noor was the first captured SOE agent to be sent to a prison in Germany.
The British Military Court proceedings against Dr. Werner Röhde and 8 other members of the Natzweiler camp, for the murder of four SOE agents at Natzweiler, began at Wuppertal on May 29, 1946. Vera Atkins was the first witness for the prosecution. According to the original trial transcript, Vera Atkins testified that Noor Inayat Khan had been murdered at Natzweiler. The trial transcript was altered in 1947 when new information indicated that Noor was still a prisoner at Pforzheim as late as September 1944, according to Sarah Helm's book. The altered transcript of the trial, published in 1949, said that the fourth woman was "unidentified."
In the Karlsruhe records of Madeleine Damerment (alias Martine Dussautoy), Eliane Plewman and Yolande Beekman, all of whom had left the prison on September 11, 1944, there was no indication of where they had gone. Until her trip to Karlsruhe, Atkins had assumed that Yolande Beekman was one of the women executed at Natzweiler on July 6, 1944, based on a sketch done by Brian Stonehouse, an SOE agent who had witnessed the arrival of the women at the camp. With only 4 weeks remaining until the trial of nine staff members at Natzweiler for the murder of four SOE agents, their names were not yet known, since there was no documentation whatsoever of their deaths.
Sarah Helm wrote the following with regard to the Karlsruhe records for Martine Dussautoy, Eliane Plewman and Yolande Beekman:
Under "taken to" it said "abgeholt nach": no destination. Under another entry was written "Fr Fuss," meaning literally that they went "freely on foot," or were set free.
Much of the information about the execution of four women at Dachau comes from a statement made by Christian Ott, who told American interrogators that he had accompanied four women from Karlsruhe to Dachau on September 11, 1944, but he couldn't remember their names. Max Wassmer, another Gestapo man at Karlsruhe, was in charge of the trip; he couldn't recall the names, nor even the number of women that he had escorted to Dachau.
Sarah Helm wrote the following about Ott's statement to the interrogators:
Waiting on the station platform, Ott expressed surprise to Wassmer that women were being sent to Dachau. He understood that Dachau was a camp for men only. He asked Wassmer "several times" whether Dachau was now taking women. "Wassmer, at last tired of my repeated question, showed me a telegram from the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), Berlin, and told me to read it."
The telegram Ott read said the women were to be "executed at Dachau" and was signed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA.
Ott said he recalled that Wassmer had told him "this must be an important case since the telegram had been signed personally by 'Ernst' - that is to say, Dr. Kaltenbrunner.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner was one of the top Nazi leaders, important enough to have been included among the accused in the first proceedings of the Nuremberg International Tribunal which began in November 1945. At the Nuremberg IMT, Kaltenbrunner was charged with being responsible for the genocide of the Jews.
Kaltenbrunner's position was higher than that of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the all-powerful head of the SS and the concentration camps. All punishments in all the concentration camps had to be approved by the head office of the SS in Oranienburg and all punishments of female prisoners, including executions, had to be approved by Himmler himself.
As Chief of the Security Police, Kaltenbrunner was the head of the RSHA and the regional offices of the Gestapo, SD and Kripo. Kaltenbrunner received orders directly from Hitler, which means that these female British spies might have been secretly executed on the orders of Hitler himself. This could explain why Kaltenbrunner had pulled rank on Himmler and ordered the execution of the women without Himmler's knowledge.
An Austrian, from the same area as Hitler, Kaltenbrunner was a sinister-looking man whose face was marred by a deep dueling scar on his cheek. He was perfect for the role of the villain in this story. He was also dead, having been executed on October 16, 1946 after being convicted of Crimes against Peace and Crimes against Humanity.
One of the women allegedly executed at Dachau was Madeleine Damerment, alias Martine Dussautoy, an innocent low-level courier who had never had the opportunity to "set Europe ablaze" because she was arrested by the Gestapo the moment she touched the ground after parachuting into France. The plans for her drop had been made by the Gestapo using the radio of Noor Inayat Khan, who had already been captured.
According to Christian Ott's hearsay statement, Ernst Kaltenbrunner had taken time out from running the RSHA to personally send a telegram to Karlsruhe prison, ordering Madeleine Damerment and 3 other women to be transported to Dachau, a men's camp, to be secretly executed. Of course, the incriminating telegram was never found.
According to the biography of Vera Atkins, written by Sarah Helm, Vera had learned in the course of her investigation that RSHA's policy was that
Any orders concerning spies came from the desk in Berlin of a man named Horst Kopkow. It was Kopkow, Vera learned, who ordered every Sonder Behandlung, or "special treatment," and who signed every protective custody order used for spies. Kopkow was fastidious and always required "receipts" for bodies when executions had taken place, except when the cases were N+N, in which case special secret procedures were enforced.
N.N. is an abbreviation for Nacht und Nebel, a special classification for prisoners who were made to disappear into the night and fog, as an alternative to being executed. They were not allowed to send or receive letters; their families were not told where they were and they assumed that their relative had been executed. Of the four women executed at Dachau, only Noor Inayat Khan was an N.N. prisoner. She was given this designation after her two escape attempts.
Sonder Behandlung (special treatment) was the Nazi code word for murder, specifically the murder of the Jews in the gas chamber.
SS officer Horst Kopkow
Horst Kopkow was never put on trial for ordering the execution of approximately 300 spies. He was arrested as a war criminal after the war, but he cooperated with the British, giving them a wealth of information about the German intelligence service. In 1948, he was recruited by the British to work as a spy in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
According to Christian Ott's statement to interrogators, Madeleine Damerment spoke "gut Deutsch," making her a prime candidate to be recruited as a double agent. By her own admission, according to Ott, Madeleine had gained 30 pounds during her 9 months of imprisonment at Karlsruhe. Was the Gestapo plying her with Apfel Strudel in an effort to get her to work for them? There are numerous references in Sarah Helm's book to British SOE agents who turned against their country and became double agents, after finding out that they had been betrayed by the SOE.
A few days after Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, the US Seventh Army issued an Official Report which summarized the events that had transpired at Dachau, based on what they had been told by 20 inmates. Their main informant was Albert Guérisse, who immediately took the Americans on a tour of the camp and showed them the gas chamber. The Americans were apparently not told about the execution of General Charles Delestraint, a prominent member of the French Resistance, nor were they told about the "brutal murder" of the four British SOE women since the Army report did not mention it.
However, the Report did state that Johann Kick, the head of the Political Department, was given a new position in August 1944 in which he was put in charge of STAPO Aussenstelle Dachau. In Appendix A of the report, the following is stated: "In his new position Kick was charged with recruiting espionage agents from the Dachau Concentration Camp. He relied almost wholly on intimidating and coercive methods." Could the four British spies have been brought to Dachau in an effort to recruit them as double agents?
Johann Kick testified at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau that it was the responsibility of the Political Department at the camp to notify the RSHA office in Berlin after an execution. No such report about the execution of the women SOE agents at Dachau was ever found, nor was the order for the execution of four women SOE agents at Dachau ever found.
In her book "A Life in Secrets," Sarah Helm wrote that Ott said the train arrived at about ten p.m. in Dachau. Wassmer's version of the story was that the train arrived at midnight. After handing the four women over to "camp officials," that was the last that Ott ever saw of the women. Ott slept that night in the building above the gate at Dachau. The next morning, Ott said that Wassmer told him that the women were scheduled to be shot at 9 a.m. Wassmer himself read the death sentence to them. Besides Wassmer, only the camp Commandant and the two SS men who fired the shots were present at the execution, according to Ott's hearsay statement.
According to Sarah Helm's book, Wassmer denied that he had told Ott that he had been present when the women were executed. Wassmer told Vera Atkins that he had delivered the women to the SS guards at Dachau and had not seen them again.
All of the German war criminals were prosecuted by the Allies on charges of "participating in a common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the 1929 Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Convention" which meant that Wassmer would have been guilty of a crime if he had, in fact, witnessed the execution of the women at Dachau. According to the prosecutors at the American Military Tribunal, held at Dachau, any SS man or prisoner who witnessed an execution ordered by RSHA, and did not try to stop it, was guilty of murder.
At the time that Vera Atkins first interrogated Max Wassmer, she believed that there were three women brought to Dachau for execution, and Wassmer was willing to agree that there were probably only three, not four, as Ott had claimed. Wassmer said that he was told the next morning that the women had been shot and he was given a "receipt" for the bodies. Apparently the receipt disappeared into the same black hole as the telegram from Ernst Kaltenbrunner, so the number of bodies could not be verified.
Six months later, Vera Atkins interrogated Max Wassmer again; by this time she suspected that Noor Inayat Khan had been brought from Pforzheim prison to Karlsruhe where she joined the other three women on the trip to Dachau. This time Wassmer gave the answer that she wanted: there were four women taken to Dachau, not three, as he had previously said.
After the typhus epidemic at Dachau was brought under control, the camp was used to house accused German war criminals. The former Dachau inmates and the German war criminals were both interrogated in preparation for the first American Military Tribunal at Dachau, which started in November 1945, but the interrogators apparently never learned about the execution of the women SOE agents, even though Christian Ott was one of the prisoners at Dachau at that time.
The 225-page Public Records Office file on Noor Inayat Khan was released to the public in 2003. It contains the statement of an unidentified Dutch prisoner at Dachau, known only by his initials A.F., who claimed to be an eye-witness to her execution. The spot where the four women were allegedly executed was located in a wooded area outside the camp and hidden from view by shrubs and trees, as shown in the photo below.
Thick shrubbery and trees hide Dachau execution site from view of the prisoners
On May 13, 2006, Alan Hamilton wrote an article, published on the British web site www.timesonline.co.uk, which gave the details of the Dutch prisoner's eye-witness testimony, as quoted below:
In 1958, a former Dutch prisoner of the Nazis known as "A.F." who witnessed Noor's execution read her biography and wrote to its author, Jean Overton Fuller. He revealed her killer to be Wilhelm Ruppert, a sadistic SS guard at the camp, and he described Noor's last moments on September 12, 1944.
"The SS undressed the girl and she was terribly beaten by Ruppert all over her body. She did not cry, neither said anything. When Ruppert got tired and the girl was a bloody mess he told her then he would shoot her. She had to kneel and the only word she said, before Ruppert shot her from behind through the head, was 'Liberté'." She was 30 years old.
Other accounts of Noor's alleged execution say that she was shot inside one of the cells in the bunker (camp prison) at Dachau, although two British prisoners in the bunker never reported hearing the shot.
Michael Pellis identifies Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, Nov. 24, 1945
Whether or not he was "sadistic," Wilhelm Ruppert was higher in rank than a lowly guard at Dachau. If the SOE women were executed at Dachau, he would not have been the one who did the shooting. At the American Military Tribunal held at the former Dachau concentration camp in November 1945, Ruppert was considered the second man in importance after the former Commandant, Martin Gottfried Weiss. In the photo above, Ruppert is standing on the right and Weiss is sitting in the aisle seat just below him.
At the trial of the Dachau concentration camp staff members, Ruppert was specifically charged with carrying out Hitler's order for the execution of 90 Russian officers, who were Communist Commissars, on September 4, 1944, the week before the alleged execution of the British SOE women at Dachau. No attempt was made to conceal the execution of the Russian officers. Ruppert's defense, that he was carrying out superior orders and that the Soviet Union had not signed the 1929 Geneva Convention, did not save him from being hanged as a war criminal.
Ruppert did not do the actual killing of the Russian officers. His job was to see that executions, ordered by RSHA, were carried out, although according to Christian Ott's hearsay version of Max Wassmer's story, Ruppert was apparently not present when the women were executed.
The two SS men who did the shooting at Dachau executions were Franz Trenkle and Theodor Bongartz. Trenkle was sentenced to death by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau; he was executed on May 28, 1946. Bongartz died in captivity soon after he was captured in 1945.
Ruppert was hanged on May 28, 1946, the day before Vera Atkins testified at the Natzweiler trial that Noor Inayat Khan had been killed at Natzweiler. Ruppert had not been charged with beating and then shooting Noor Inayat Khan because the Dutch prisoner at Dachau, who claimed to have witnessed her execution, did not come forward with his story until 1958, and even then, he chose to share this information with a writer, not with the Nazi hunters who were still looking for war criminals to prosecute.
As a witness to an execution, this Dutch prisoner was a war criminal, according to the standards of the American Military prosecutors, because he did not try to stop it; this may be why he kept quiet until 1958. Sylvester Filleböck, an SS man who was accused of witnessing an execution at Dachau, was convicted and sentenced to death, although his sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison. Even Kapos, the prisoners who assisted the camp staff, were held to be responsible for stopping executions: Emil Erwin Mahl, a Kapo who assisted at executions at Dachau, was condemned to death but his sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison.
Dr. Werner Röhde was convicted and hanged on October 11, 1946 for committing war crimes, including the murder of Noor Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents at the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace. At the request of Vera Atkins, Dr. Röhde had signed a death certificate for Noor, thereby providing the only documentation of her death - at Natzweiler, not Dachau.
In answer to my query, Dr. Graham Macklin stated in his e-mail response to me, with regard to the files in the Public Records Office, that
The file also confirms that Ott, Wassmer and another man named Heuser escorted the women to the concentration camps.
Christian Ott, Max Wassmer and Heuser were Gestapo agents who worked at Karlsruhe where seven of the women were imprisoned before they were allegedly taken to Natzweiler and Dachau for execution. It was their job to escort prisoners when they were moved to a new location, but according to Albert Knoll, who works in the Dachau Archives, the names of Max Wassmer and Christian Ott, the two Gestapo agents who allegedly accompanied the women to Dachau, are not listed in the Archives although they supposedly stayed overnight at the Dachau camp.
Knoll wrote, in answer to my questions, that all the executions of Dachau prisoners had been public and that the other prisoners had been forced to be eye-witnesses, since this was a measure of deterrence. But all the executions of Prisoners of War, secret agents, members of the Resistance and prominent prisoners had been strictly secret. Executions of non-Jewish women had always been a source of embarrassment for the male perpetrators, according to Knoll.
Regarding the trip from Karlsruhe prison to Dachau, the following quote is from the book "Flames in the Field" by Rita Kramer:
Wassmer later described the September trip to Dachau for the English writer who was so interested. They had gone by express train and he told her he had given the four women the window seats. They had passed around some English cigarettes one of them still had in her possession and he had given them some of his German ones when they ran out. Their conversation was lively; he didn't think they were frightened, but of course he didn't understand what they were saying. They spoke English. They got to Dachau around midnight [...]
The four walked up the hill from the station to the camp, where they were locked up separately overnight, and in the early morning they were taken to a spot strewn with sand stained with blood and told to kneel down there. They knelt in pairs, holding hands, as an SS man came up and shot them from behind.
I once spent a week in the town of Dachau and I walked the route from the train station to the camp. There is no hill between the station and the camp, although there is a hill with a castle on top of it in the town of Dachau. Even in the dark, Wassmer should have known whether or not he was walking uphill.
When Christian Ott was interrogated by Alexander Nicholson, the war crimes investigator who had taken over the Karlsruhe Gestapo case from Vera Atkins, he told him about a conversation that he had had with Wassmer after the women were allegedly shot.
As described by Sarah Helm in her book, the conversation went like this:
Ott told Nicholson: "So I said to him, 'But tell me, what really happened?' And Wassmer turned to me and said: 'So you want to know how it really happened?' "
Nicholson asked what Ott had taken Wassmer to mean by this comment. "I knew what he meant was that what he had told me was just a story - eine Geschichte - that he had made up, and I wouldn't want to know what really happened."
Christian Ott and Max Wassmer were both in their late fifties and probably worried about spending the rest of their lives in prison as war criminals. Both were great story tellers, adding rich detail to their accounts, and they were both willing to say anything to please their captors, as long as they didn't incriminate themselves. Wassmer and Ott told their interrogators that they had also taken four SOE women to Natzweiler. Both were released from custody and were never prosecuted, although they were just as guilty as Franz Berg, the Natzweiler inmate who was sentenced to 5 years in prison for building the fire in the crematory oven at Natzweiler where the bodies of four SOE women were allegedly burned.
British SOE Agents Executed at Dachau
Noor Inayat Khan
Of the four British SOE agents allegedly executed at Dachau, Noor Inayat Khan has become the most famous. Noor has gone down in history as a great heroine because she defied her captors to the end, never cooperating with the Germans in any way.
Noor Inayat Khan was the first woman to be sent to France to work as a wireless operator, even though there were other women in the SOE who would have been better suited for this job. Her trainer thought that Noor was too emotional and when she was given a mock interrogation to see how she would hold up under an interrogation by the Gestapo, she failed miserably. Physically tiny and fearful of guns, she was also "not overly burdened with brains," according to her instructor. Moreover, her exotic beauty might draw attention to her, causing her to be more vulnerable to arrest by the Gestapo.
Noor Inayat Khan was sent to France, even before she had finished her training, on an RAF Lysander plane on the night of June 16, 1943 to become a wireless operator for the Cinema sub circuit of the Prosper line; her organizer was Emile Garry. Noor was captured around October 1, 1943 after she was allegedly betrayed by the sister of Emile Garry.
According to the book "A Life in Secrets," by Sarah Helm, Noor was denounced by Renée Garry who told the Gestapo where to find her. Renée was in love with another SOE agent named France Antelme, but when Nora arrived, Antelme gave his affection to her.
Renée Garry allegedly sold Noor to the Gestapo for money and revenge, but what was the real motive for Noor's betrayal? Did the British deliberately select their least qualified female agent to send to France because they wanted her to be caught? Was this a deliberate plan to allow the Germans to capture a British radio?
In her book "Flames in the Field," Rita Kramer wrote that Henri Déricourt, who was a double agent in the Prosper line, said that the British had deliberately sacrificed women SOE agents as part of a scheme to distract from the invasion of Sicily. These women were "decoys" who were meant to be captured after the British learned that the Germans had infiltrated the Prosper Network. The purpose was to plant disinformation about the invasion of Sicily.
Much of the information about Noor Inayat Khan comes from her personal file in the Pubic Records Office, part of which was opened to the public in 1998. The file contains the citation submitted by SOE Major Maurice Buckmaster for Noor to receive the prestigious George Medal for gallantry by a civilian.
Although Noor had joined the WAAF before becoming an SOE agent, she was officially a civilian in FANY during the time that she was working as a wireless operator in occupied France. FANY was the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, an organization of unpaid volunteer nurses and ambulance drivers, founded in 1907. All of the women SOE agents were members of FANY, which provided a cover for their participation in illegal war-time activities.
On April 5, 1949, the London Gazette published the following account of Noor's death on the occasion of her being awarded the George Cross posthumously:
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. She refused however to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and she hoped also to rebuild her group. She remained at her post therefore and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The Gestapo had a full description of her, but knew only her code name "Madeleine." They deployed considerable forces in their effort to catch her and so break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch. The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and were now in a position to work back to London. They asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts at escape. She was asked to sign a declaration that she would make no further attempts but she refused and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission from Berlin to send her to Germany for "safe custody". She was the first agent to be sent to Germany.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November 1943, and then to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered to be a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison has also been interrogated and has confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN, when interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo, refused to give any information whatsoever, either as to her work or her colleagues
She was taken with three others to Dachau Camp on the 12th September, 1944. On arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot. Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.
Note that this version of her execution says that Noor arrived at Dachau on the 12th of September, not the 11th, and was taken immediately to the crematorium and shot, not kept in a prison cell or barrack overnight, as two Gestapo men later testified. Other versions of the story give September 11th or September 13th as the day the women were executed.
At the time that Maurice Buckmaster submitted the citation on February 24, 1944, Noor Inayat Khan had been in German hands for at least three months and the Gestapo was using her radio to communicate with the SOE in London, requesting arms and money to be dropped. In the citation, Buckmaster wrote that as a result of Noor's bravery, the Prosper Network had been reinforced and reconstructed and was now in perfect order, which was a blatant lie.
The following is a quote from the citation submitted by Buckmaster on February 24, 1944:
It is unique in the annals of the organization for a circuit to be so completely disintegrated and yet to be rebuilt because, regardless of personal danger, this young woman remained on her post, at times alone, and always under threat of arrest.
An often-repeated story is that Noor Inayat Khan was instructed by the SOE to return to England in July 1943 after the collapse of the Prosper Network. According to a book written by Sarah Helm, entitled "A Life in Secrets," there is no evidence that Noor was ever instructed to return, and if she had been so instructed, she would have been obliged to obey. Yet Buckmaster wrote in his citation for the George Medal that Noor was given the opportunity to return, but had pleaded to remain and had been allowed to do so even though she was in grave danger.
Did the leaders in the SOE deliberately select Noor Inayat Khan to send to France because they believed that she would be easily intimidated by the Gestapo? Was her betrayal a deliberate plan on the part of the SOE? Did the SOE know that she had been captured? Did they deliberately communicate with the Germans who were using her radio, in order to send disinformation about the Allied plans for the invasion of Europe?
According to Rita Kramer, the captured agents in the Prosper line, both men and women, knew that they had been betrayed by their own countrymen and they gave information to the Germans because of this. Except for Noor Inayat Khan. After the war, when the Gestapo men were interrogated, they confirmed that Noor had told them nothing.
Although Noor never revealed anything to the Gestapo, she didn't have to because she had kept a notebook with a list of all the messages that she had sent, which allowed her captors to work out all her codes and security checks. Was Noor instructed to keep this notebook, so that after her betrayal, when she was eventually captured, the Gestapo would be able to use her radio? Was she also instructed to tell the Gestapo nothing, except personal details about her family?
When SOE officer Vera Atkins eventually became suspicious that Noor might have been captured and the Germans were transmitting from her radio, she decided to test whoever was using the radio by asking personal questions about Noor's family. According to Rita Kramer's book "Flames in the Field," Noor had told the Gestapo agents that her name was Nora Baker and she had discussed her family with them. The Gestapo was able to guess the right answers and Atkins was satisfied that it was really Noor with whom they were communicating.
According to the book "A Life in Secrets," by Sarah Helm, for reasons never explained, the family of Noor Inayat Khan was never told the full facts of her death at Dachau. It was only when the family read the citation for her George Cross in 1948 that they learned the "final official version" of what had happened to their daughter.
In Noor Inayat Khan's personal file at the Public Records Office is a message sent from Berne, Switzerland by an SOE agent named Jacques Weil, a radio operator with a Jewish SOE circuit called the Juggler Network. He had escaped to Switzerland after the Prosper Network collapsed. In his message, dated October 1, 1943, Jacques said that he had news from an SOE agent named Sonia that Madeleine had been captured. The SOE office in London completely ignored this message since they didn't know who Sonia was.
The Sonia that was named in the message was Sonia Olschanezky, who had been recruited into the SOE by Weil, her fiancé. Olschanezky had remained in France and continued to send messages until she was captured in February 1944. She was one of the four SOE agents allegedly executed at Natzweiler.
In a book published in 1958, entitled "Death Be Not Proud," by Elizabeth Nichols, it was revealed that the fiancé and family of Sonia Olschanezky had never been told that she died at Natzweiler, although they made many attempts to find out what had happened to her. The problem was that, at the time of the trial of her murderer, Dr. Werner Röhde, it was not yet known that she was one of his victims. She had no death certificate because Dr. Röhde had been asked by Vera Atkins to sign a death certificate for Noor Inayat Khan instead.
Altogether, there were 39 female SOE agents who were sent to France and 13 of them never returned. Of the 13 female SOE agents who never returned, there were allegedly 4 that were executed at Natzweiler, 4 at Dachau and 4 at Ravensbrück, the women's camp. The 13th was Muriel Byck, a Jewish agent, who died of meningitis on 23 May 1944, six weeks after she arrived in France.
The 12 women who were allegedly executed had first been held in the Gestapo prison on Avenue Foch in Paris. Then all except Sonia Olschanezky and Noor Inayat Khan were sent to Fresnes, another Gestapo prison. Noor was sent to Pforzheim prison on November 27, 1943 after she attempted to escape for the second time.
Eight of the women agents were gathered together at Avenue Foch and sent on May 13, 1944 to the civilian prison at Karlsruhe, including Odette Sansom who was later transferred on July 18, 1944 to Ravensbrück, where she survived. Sansom was a radio operator for the Spindle network of the British SOE; she was one of the eight SOE agents who were sent to Ravensbrück.
Sansom had been captured on April 16, 1943, along with another SOE agent named Peter Churchill; she had told the Gestapo that she was married to Churchill, whom she claimed was a relative of Winston Churchill. Perhaps this was why she was first sent to the civilian prison at Karlsruhe, instead of being sent directly to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück. At Ravensbrück, she was given a private cell and was put under the protection of the Commandant, Fritz Suhren. There were three SOE agents who survived Ravensbrück; the other two were Yvonne Baseden and Eileen Nearne.
Another SOE agent that was sent to Ravensbrück was Yvonne Rudellat, a Prosper line agent who parachuted into France around the same time as Andrée Borrel. Rudellat was shot twice by the Gestapo when she resisted arrest; she was taken to a hospital and after her recovery, she was sent to Ravensbrück, then transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she survived for a few days after the camp was liberated.
Four of the 8 female SOE agents, who were sent to Ravensbrück, were executed there, according to eye-witness testimony. Their names are Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, Violette Szabo and Cecily Lefort.
The SS man who was the second in command at Ravensbrück, Johann Schwarzhuber, gave detailed testimony in the British Military Court at Hamburg, where 16 staff members of Ravensbrück were on trial from December 5, 1946 to February 3, 1947. Schwarzhuber testified that SOE agents Violette Szabo, Lilian Rolfe and Denise Bloch were executed by a shot in the neck shortly after Schwarzhuber was transferred to the camp on January 12, 1945.
Until Vera Atkins interrogated Schwarzhuber on March 13, 1946 and got him to confess to witnessing the murder of the SOE agents, nothing was known about the fate of these three women who had been at Ravensbrück since August 22, 1944. Schwarzhuber filled in all the details that Atkins wanted to hear, about how the women had died bravely and how the SS men had been impressed with their bearing.
Schwarzhuber, who was on trial himself, said in the deposition taken from him by Vera Atkins and repeated in the courtroom, that Commandant Fritz Suhren had been annoyed that the Gestapo had not carried out these executions themselves. Suhren was not on trial since he had escaped from custody. Schwarzhuber also testified that Suhren had ordered him to organize a mass gassing of the women prisoners at the end of February 1945 at a time when sixty to seventy prisoners were dying each day during a typhus epidemic. Cecily Lefort was one of the women who died in the gas chamber on May 1, 1945, according to the testimony of Sylvia Salvensen, a former prisoner in the camp.
Prior to being sent to Ravensbrück, Schwarzhuber had worked at Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz II, better known as Birkenau. Schwarzhuber was convicted and executed on May 3, 1947.
Schwarzhuber was the most important witness at the Ravensbrück proceedings; he had first told his story when he gave a deposition after being interrogated by Vera Atkins. How was Vera Atkins able to get Schwarzhuber to confess to crimes for which he knew that he would surely be executed? Did she threaten to turn his family over to the Russians, a threat that was usually effective?
Denise Bloch, who was Jewish, had formerly worked as a radio operator in the same circuit as SOE agent Brian Stonehouse, who survived four concentration camps. Stonehouse was captured by the Gestapo in October 1941; he survived Neuengamme, Mauthausen and Natzweiler and was among the prisoners liberated by American troops at Dachau. In an interview with writer Rita Kramer, Stonehouse told her that he and his "friends," who were the other British SOE agents in the camps with him, were "never tortured," much less killed.
However, it was learned years later that Odette Sansom had been tortured by Gestapo agents, who had pulled out all her toenails to try to make her talk. In 1953, a British doctor, who began treating her, noticed her lack of toenails. In an e-mail to me, Rowan MacAusland, the son of her doctor, wrote regarding her torture by the Gestapo: "My father was her doctor on her return to Britain and looked after her feet - he saw it was true."
The Ravensbrück camp was liberated by Russian troops and if any camp records were ever found, they were not released. All of the information about the women who were executed at Ravensbrück came from the testimony of Johann Schwarzhuber and from some of their fellow prisoners.
In April 1945, the Ravensbrück prisoners who were still able to walk, were marched out of the camp toward one of the sub-camps. Many of them escaped from the march; eventually the marchers reached Allied lines in early May 1945 and were liberated. Odette Sansom rode with the Ravensbrück camp Commandant Fritz Suhren in his car to the American lines where he surrendered on May 3, 1945. He was expecting Odette to put in a good word for him to save himself from being charged as a war criminal, but she refused.
After the war, there were rumors that Odette had survived Ravensbrück because she had been the mistress of Fritz Suhren, who was a handsome man. The story of her toenails being pulled out was being questioned; Odette was the only one who was tortured this way even though she had told her captors that she was married to a relative of Winston Churchill. Then it was learned that Hugo Bleicher, the Abwehr officer who arrested her in 1943, had found her in bed with Peter Churchill at a hotel in St. Jorioz when she was supposed to be out helping the French resistance. By 1959, Odette was being called a "phoney" and there was even some talk of taking back her George Cross, according to Sarah Helm's book.
Women agents were used by the British SOE because it was believed that they would be better able to elude capture since the Gestapo would not suspect a woman. They would be less conspicuous than the men who would be routinely stopped and questioned because it was not normal to see a young man who was not in uniform during the war. So it was highly unusual that fifteen of the women SOE agents, or more than a third of them, were captured. The Nazis had a very chauvinistic attitude regarding women and it is even more unusual that 12 of the women who were captured were executed.
Altogether, there were 470 agents in the French section of the British SOE, and 39 of them were women or 8% of the total. One third of the women died while in captivity or were executed. The male agents made up 92% of the total; 81 male agents, or 18% of the men, died while in prison or were executed. Twelve of the women SOE agents were executed secretly and there were no records of these executions found after the war. All of the information about their deaths comes from eye-witness testimony or from the confessions of the perpetrators.
According to Rita Kramer, the 8 women who were executed at Natzweiler and Dachau were inexperienced and some were emotionally unsuited for this type of work. They were no match for the highly experienced Gestapo agents. If they were captured, it was no great loss for the SOE.
Henri Déricourt was a former French Air Force pilot who had escaped to Great Britain after France surrendered in 1940. He joined the British SOE and parachuted into France on January 22, 1943. Déricourt was in charge of finding suitable landing places for small aircraft and arranging for someone to meet the SOE agents when they landed. Noor Inayat Khan, Diana Rowden and Cecily Lefort were the first to arrive by air and they were met by Déricourt, whose code name was Gilbert. Another SOE agent named Gilbert Norman was a wireless operator for the Prosper Network.
Déricourt arranged for the transport by plane of over 67 SOE agents including 7 of the SOE women who were allegedly executed: Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Cecily Lefort, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden and Andrée Borrel. One of the women allegedly executed at Natzweiler was Sonia Olschanezky, who had been recruited in France and was not flown in from England.
During the interrogation of Gestapo agents after the war, it was learned that Déricourt had given information to Abwehr, the German armed forces intelligence agency, and to the Gestapo, that had led to the arrest of SOE agents including Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden and Jack Agazarian. Jack Agazarian was a wireless operator who was flown to France on the night of July 22, 1943; he was captured a week later and his radio fell into the hands of the Gestapo. According to the PRO files, Agazarian was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on March 29, 1944 along with a long list of other men.
In a book entitled "A Life in Secrets," written by Sarah Helm, it is stated that Vera Atkins learned during an interview with Hans Kieffer, the head of counter intelligence for the Gestapo in Paris, that Déricourt was a double agent who was working for the Germans.
From the PRO files, I learned that Francis Suttill was suspected of cooperating with the Germans. Suttill, the leader of the Prosper line, was arrested on June 23, 1943, the same day that Gilbert Norman was captured. Suttill is alleged to have made a pact with the Germans in which he agreed to give them information about ammunition dumps in return for their promise to spare the lives of those guarding the dumps. A short time later, he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Jean Overton Fuller wrote several books about the British SOE, including one entitled "Double Agent." In her book, she wrote that Henri Déricourt told her in an interview that the leaders of the SOE knew that the Prosper Network had been infiltrated by the Gestapo. Déricourt claimed that both men and women agents were deliberately sacrificed by the British in order to give misinformation to the Nazis about the future invasions of Sicily and Normandy.
In Sarah Helm's book "A Life in Secrets," it was mentioned that an F section wireless operator named Marcel Rousset had been captured by the Gestapo on September 7, 1943. Rousset was taken to Avenue Foch where he was told by Déricourt that the Gestapo knew all about the SOE and that he and Francis Suttill had decided to admit everything in order to save lives.
The first trace of Noor Inayat Khan came from a report by Rousset, who had returned to England after the war. He had learned after he was captured by the Gestapo that Noor, code name Madeleine, was believed by the other captured agents to be at Avenue Foch and that the Germans were using her wireless set.
At the end of his report, Rousset mentioned that he was taken by bus to Germany on April 18, 1944 along with several other agents including Prosper wireless operator Gilbert Norman, whose code name was Archambaud. The German records show that Rousset, Gilbert Norman and the others were taken to an unknown destination. On the way, the bus stopped and picked up a group of women from the Gestapo prison at Fresnes.
Rousset and the others, including Gilbert Norman who had arrived in France on the same plane as Noor Inayat Khan, were taken to Silesia where they were held in a prison at Ravitsch, near Breslau in what is now Poland, although, at that time, Silesia had been incorporated into the Greater German Reich. When Ravitsch was liberated by the Russians, the prisoners were released and they headed east. This is why the search for the 8 women who were allegedly executed at Dachau and Natzweiler first began in the east, in what is now Poland.
Rousset's story is contradicted by the PRO files which say that Gilbert Norman was executed at Mauthausen on September 6, 1944. Curiously, this is the same day that 6 SOE men were transferred from Natzweiler to Dachau, where they survived.
In November 1946, Déricourt was arrested by the French authorities, based on information obtained from the Gestapo files after the war; he was finally put on trial in June 1948. British SOE agent Nicholas Bodington testified at the trial that he had been Déricourt's supervisor in the field. Bodington admitted that he knew that Déricourt was in contact with the Gestapo, but that nothing of any importance had been revealed to the Germans.
There were rumors that Henri Déricourt had been a spy planted by MI6, the British special intelligence service, to work on Cockade, the Allied plan to fool the Germans about the location and date of D-Day, the invasion of Europe. His job was to make sure that phony messages from London were received by the radios of the captured agents. The Germans were not aware that the SOE knew that the wireless operators had been captured and that their radios were being used by the Gestapo.
Déricourt was acquitted mainly due to the testimony of Nicholas Bodington. On November 20, 1962, Déricourt was allegedly killed in an airplane crash, although his body was never found. Claims have been made that he faked his death and then began a new life under another name.
So what really happened to the 8 women SOE agents who were allegedly executed at Dachau and Natzweiler? Where were 7 of them really taken when they left Karlsruhe on July 6, 1944 and September 11, 1944, destinations unknown? Could they have been taken to Ravitsch, the same prison where many of the male agents were taken? Were they released from Ravitsch by the Russians and left to fend for themselves in the middle of a war zone?
Their most likely destination was Ravensbrück, the concentration camp for women; in the last 6 months of the war, there was a typhus epidemic in Germany which spread to all the camps, including Ravensbrück. There are no records in existence for the Ravensbrück camp, since they were either destroyed by the Nazis or confiscated by the Soviet Union and never released.
When 16 staff members of the Ravensbrück camp were put on trial in a British Military Court in Hamburg in December 1946, the chief prosecutor said in his opening statement that 120,000 women had passed through the prison between 1939 and May 1945 and 92,000 of them had died. If these figures are correct, then the death rate for the women was more than three times that of the men. Compare this with the men's camp at Dachau where 31,995 prisoners died out of a prison population of 206,206 between 1933 and April 1945 and half of those died during the time of the typhus epidemic.
If the 7 women who left Karlsruhe were sent to Ravensbrück, they might have been transferred to Bergen-Belsen, as was Yvonne Rudellat, a courier in the Prosper Network. According to Rita Kramer's book "Flames in the Field," Rudellat was shot in the head at the time that she was captured. She was taken to a hospital and after she recovered, she was sent to Ravensbrück, than transferred later to Belsen where she died after the camp was liberated.
Noor Inayat Khan most likely died at Pforzheim prison. She was classified as a Nacht und Nebel prisoner which means that her family would not have been notified in the event of her death.
In January 1947, nine months after the file on Noor had been closed, Vera Atkins was given a letter written by Yolande Lagrave, a former French political prisoner at Pforzheim. Lagrave had been sent to Pforzheim prison in early 1944, two months after Noor had arrived; she claimed that she was the only woman prisoner to survive Pforzheim. According to Lagrave's story, all the other women were taken out, raped and then shot; their bodies were buried on the prison grounds in a mass grave. For some unknown reason, Lagrave was kept alive and she was released when the Allies liberated the prison on May 1, 1945.
Lagrave began writing letters to Noor's brother and others, in which she revealed that Noor Inayat Khan had left Pforzheim some time in September 1944, although the exact date was unknown. When Atkins saw the letter, she realized that Noor could not have been murdered at Natzweiler, as she had testified at the trial of the Natzweiler staff. The transcript of the trial was changed to reflect that the fourth woman was "unidentified." It was not publicly known that the transcript had been altered until 1976, according to Sarah Helm's book "A Life in Secrets."
Noor was kept in solitary confinement at Pforzheim, far apart from the other prisoners, but they managed to communicate with her by scratching messages on the bottom of their mess tins with knitting needles, according to Yolande Lagrave's story. Each day, the women would look on the bottom of their mess tin at meal time to see if Noor had scratched a message when she had previously used the same mess tin.
In September 1944, Noor had scratched a message, with no date, which said that she was leaving. With this new information provided by Yolande Lagrave, it was then assumed by Vera Atkins that Noor had been taken from Pforzheim to Karlsruhe on September 11, where she joined three other women who were released on that date and sent to an unnamed concentration camp.
On May 19, 2006 a documentary entitled "The Princess Spy" was shown on the BBC2 Timewatch program. In this documentary, about the life of Noor Inayat Khan, alias Nora Baker, records in the Pforzheim archives were shown with the name Nora Baker, her address in London, her birthplace in London, and the date of her transfer - September 11, 1944. Noor was actually born in Moscow, of an Indian father and an American mother.
The BBC2 documentary contradicts the statement of Marcel Schubert, a prisoner at Pforzheim who worked as an interpreter. Schubert claimed that "the British woman's name was never written in the prison register." Noor had revealed her name, and also two of her addresses, only to the other women prisoners by scratching this information on the bottom of a mess tin, according to Yolande Lagrave, who said that she had written down the addresses and sewn the paper inside the hem of her skirt. After the war, Yolande had attempted to contact Noor, but her letters were returned.
According to Sarah Helm's book, the SOE was not above fabricating stories about Noor Inayat Khan in order to make her into more of a heroine that she actually was. In the citation for Noor to receive the George Medal, an award given to civilians for gallantry, it was noted that Noor "has also been instrumental in facilitating the escape of 30 Allied airmen shot down in France." Such an escape never happened, according to Sarah Helm.
According to Sarah Helm's book "A Life in Secrets," Hans Kieffer, the man who had ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison, told Vera Atkins that he had no knowledge of her execution.
There is no documentation whatsoever that supports the story that 12 women SOE agents were executed at Dachau, Natzweiler and Ravensbrück. The story of the executions of these 12 female SOE agents is based on hearsay testimony, or the biased testimony of male SOE agents who wanted these women to go down in history as heroines, and/or the confessions of SS men whose depositions, taken by Vera Atkins, were repeated in the courtroom. As a Jewish refugee from Romania who had escaped Nazi persecution, Vera Atkins was strongly motivated to make sure that justice was done and that her agents were not relegated to the "missing and presumed dead" file.
Malmedy Massacre Trial
"I recognize that after the battle of Normandy my unit was composed mainly of young, fanatical soldiers. A good deal of them had lost their parents, their sisters and brothers during the bombing. They had seen for themselves in Köln thousands of mangled corpses after a terror raid had passed. Their hatred for the enemy was such, I swear it, I could not always keep it under control." SS Standartenführer Jochen Peiper, 1st SS Panzer Division, Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler
Joachim Peiper, one of the accused in the Malmedy Massacre
Following the defeat of the German Army in World War II, the Judge Advocate Department of the Third US Army set up a War Crimes Branch which conducted 489 court proceedings in which 1,672 German war criminals were charged. This was apart from the proceedings against the major German war criminals before an International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Most of the secondary proceedings conducted by the American occupation forces were held at Dachau, on the grounds of Germany's most infamous horror camp, between November 15, 1945 and 1948.
The most controversial of the Dachau proceedings, and the one that is still discussed to this day, is the infamous Malmedy Massacre case against the Waffen-SS soldiers who were accused of the murder of American Prisoners of War and Belgian civilians during the intense fighting of the Battle of the Bulge.
The Malmedy Massacre, or the shooting of 84 American soldiers who had surrendered, took place on December 17, 1944, the second day of the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, during the summer of 1945, the US occupation authorities rounded up over 1,000 former soldiers in the 1st SS Panzer Division and interrogated them. Seventy-five of them were originally charged as war criminals in the Malmedy case. One of those who were charged was 18-year-old Arvid Freimuth who committed suicide in his cell before the trial started. Charges were dismissed against Marcel Boltz after it was learned that he was a French citizen. That left 73 men who were ultimately prosecuted by the American Military.
The Malmedy case became officially known as U.S. vs. Valentin Bersin, et al. Bersin's name was the first in the alphabetical list of the accused, and he was the first to be sentenced to death for killing Belgian civilians in the village of Wanne.
The proceedings in the Malmedy Massacre case started on May 12, 1946 and the verdicts were read on July 16, 1946. All of the 73 men on trial were convicted and 42 were sentenced to death by hanging. The list of the names of the 73 men are on a separate page.
Although popularly known as "the Dachau trials," these court proceedings by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau were not conducted like a typical trial in the American justice system. Guilt was established beforehand by interrogators assigned to obtain confessions from the accused who were then presumed guilty; the burden of proof was on the defense, not the prosecution. A panel of American military officers acted as both judges and jury and the defense attorneys were also American military officers. The judges took judicial notice of the crimes that were allegedly committed, which meant that the defense was not permitted to argue that the crimes had not taken place. Hearsay testimony was allowed and affidavits could be submitted by witnesses who did not appear in the courtroom and thus could not be cross examined by the defense.
In some of the proceedings at Dachau, the prosecution witnesses were paid to testify. Some of the accused were not permitted to testify in their own defense. Thus the outcome of the Malmedy Massacre proceedings was never in doubt.
The accused in the proceedings included General Josef "Sepp" Dietrich, commander of the Sixth Panzer Army, who was a long-time personal friend of Adolf Hitler, and Col. Jochen Peiper, the commanding officer of "Kampfgrüppe Peiper," the armored battle group which spearheaded the German attack in Hitler's Ardennes Offensive, better known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge. Peiper's rank was the equivalent of an American Lt. Col. when he was assigned on December 16, 1944 to lead the tank attack, but after the battle, he was promoted to Colonel. Peiper preferred to be called by his nickname, Jochen, rather than his real first name, Joachim.
Both Peiper and Dietrich were members of the "Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler," an SS outfit which was established in 1933 under the command of Dietrich. SS stands for Schutzstaffel which means "Protection Squad" in English. The SS was an elite group that was separate from the regular German army, which was called the Wehrmacht. The Schutzstaffel had started out as a private protection squad, whose purpose it was to personally guard Adolf Hitler.
Another branch of the SS was the SS-Totenkopfverbände, which served as the guards in the concentration camps. The SS was a unique branch of the German armed forces; it was a volunteer army which had many divisions made up of recruits from almost every country in Europe. The Waffen-SS soldiers swore an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, rather than to their country, as did the Wehrmacht soldiers.
General Sepp Dietrich wearing Death's Head emblem on cap
The SS men was more hated by the Americans than the regular Wehrmacht soldiers. The men in all the SS Panzer (tank) divisions wore the Totenkopf or Death's Head symbol on their visor caps, the same symbol that was also worn by the Einsatzgruppen when they followed behind the troops, killing the Communists and Jews, when the German Army invaded Russia on June 22, 1941, and the same symbol that was worn by the guards in the Nazi concentration camps.
Dachau was selected as the site for the German war crimes proceedings that were conducted solely by the American military, partly because of the abundant housing available at the former concentration camp and the huge SS Training Camp there, but primarily because it was the place most associated with German atrocities in World War II. The mere mention of the word "Dachau" was enough to convince most people of the guilt of any accused German war criminal. The American prosecutors in the Dachau proceedings, most of whom were Jewish, had only to walk a few yards to the infamous gas chamber, that was located just outside the former Dachau concentration camp, to know what the Germans were capable of.
Courtroom at Dachau where proceedings took place
Lt. William Perl, an Austrian Jew who had emigrated to America in 1940, was the chief interrogator of the Malmedy Massacre accused. Perl was an active Zionist who had worked to get European Jews into Palestine illegally before he came to America. His wife was a survivor of Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women, where she was sent in 1943. Perl was assisted by other Jews on the interrogation staff, including Josef Kirschbaum, Harry Thon and Morris Ellowitz. The Americans needed all the help they could get from native German speakers which is the reason that German Jewish refugees were used in the investigative process.
The chief prosecutor, called the Trial Judge Advocate, was Lt. Col. Burton F. Ellis, a Jewish attorney who had no prior experience in a military courtroom. He took over the case which had been handled by another Jewish prosecutor, Dwight Fanton, during the interrogation phase. His chief assistant prosecutor was another Jew, Raphael Schumaker.
The lawyer for the defense was Lt. Col. Willis M. Everett, who had never been involved in a criminal case before, had never fought in combat, couldn't speak German, and had only just arrived in Germany a few weeks before the proceeding began. On the opening day, Everett and his defense team had not yet interviewed all 73 of the men they were representing in the court room.
Everett was ably assisted by Herbert J. Strong, a civilian attorney who had volunteered to work on the war crimes military tribunals. Strong was a German-born Jew who had emigrated to America after the Nazis came to power. Except for the accused, most of the people in the courtroom were Jews, including two of the court reporters, and it was understandable that they had nothing but hatred and contempt for the ruthless and sadistic SS men.
Lt. Col. Everett on the left, Lt. Col. Ellis on the right
A panel of high-ranking American army officers acted as both judge and jury. Seven members of the panel are shown in the photograph below. The president of the panel was Brigadier General Josiah T. Dalbey, who is the fourth man from the left in the photo. The dominant member of the panel, Col. Abraham H. Rosenfeld, was the "law member," who ruled on all motions and legal matters during the proceeding.
Col. Rosenfeld was Jewish, and a graduate of Yale. He had had experience in over 200 court martial cases before coming to Dachau in March 1946. "Rosenfeld" was a name that was very familiar to General Dietrich because his close friend, Adolf Hitler, always referred to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by that name, claiming that FDR was both a Communist and a Jew.
Col. Rosenfeld sits under the flag with his hand on his chin
Of all the proceedings before the American military tribunal at Dachau, the one that was the most highly publicized was the Malmedy Massacre case. The proceedings were filmed and scenes were shown in the newsreels in American theaters. The accused complained that they were being blinded and cooked by the hot lights needed for the movie cameras. This case was important because every school child in America knew the name of the Battle of the Bulge. It was the most decisive battle on the Western front, the battle in which the Allies crushed the enemy army, leading to Germany's final defeat.
Besides bringing war criminals to justice, the Nuremberg and Dachau military tribunals were designed to educate the public, both in Germany and in America, that World War II was "the Good War," the war fought by the American good guys against the German bad guys, who were rotten through and through, from their evil leader right down to the teenagers who died defending their country. The purpose of the Dachau military tribunals was to establish once and for all that the Germans had committed unspeakable atrocities, which were all part of an evil conspiracy masterminded by Adolf Hitler.
Malmedy Massacre Trial `Continue
Bodies of American POWs killed at Baugnez Crossroads
The incident which became known as "the Malmedy Massacre" happened at the Baugnez Crossroads in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium on December 17, 1944, the second day of fighting in the famous Battle of the Bulge, where American troops suffered 81,000 casualties, including 19,000 deaths, in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The German army suffered 70,000 casualties with 20,000 dead.
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest combat action in the history of the American military; for 40 days, the men fought in the bitter cold of the worst winter weather in 20 years, not even stopping for Christmas Day. It was during this decisive battle that a number of American soldiers were taken prisoner by Waffen-SS soldiers who were fighting in the battle group named Kampfgrüppe Peiper, which was spearheading the German attack.
The photograph above shows some of the 72 bodies which were recovered after they were left lying in the snow until January 13, 1945, four weeks after they were killed. The reason given by the US Army QM unit which eventually retrieved the bodies was that there was still heavy fighting in the area, which was not true, according to American soldiers who participated in the fighting in the vicinity of the Massacre.
According to one veteran of the battle, an American Infantry Captain who is now deceased, the alleged massacre was a cover-up to explain why the US Army waited four weeks to collect combat fatalities after they had been notified about the bodies by local Belgian citizens. Another 12 bodies were recovered four months later after all the snow had melted, making a total of 84 victims.
On the day of the incident, Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper's assignment had been to capture the bridge over the Muese in the Belgian town of Huy, and hold it to the last man until General Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army could cross over it, then rush across the northern Belgian plain to take the great supply port of Antwerp, which was the main objective of Hitler's Ardennes Offensive. Hitler had personally picked the route that Peiper was to take, but heavy artillery fire from the 2nd US Infantry Division had forced him to take an alternative route through the tiny village of Malmedy, close to the Baugnez Crossroads.
Peiper's Battle Group never reached its objective, which was the bridge over the Muese. Many of Peiper's tanks were destroyed by the Allies, and after Peiper ordered his men to destroy the remaining tanks and vehicles, the survivors escaped by wading and swimming across the river. Peiper's men were forced to retreat on foot, at a killing pace, on Christmas Eve 1944. Out of the 5,000 men in Peiper's unit, only 800 survived the Battle of the Bulge. Almost one out of ten of the survivors was indicted as a war criminal by the victorious Allies.
The Baugnez Crossroads was known to the Americans as Five Points because it was the intersection of 5 roads. There is considerable disagreement about what actually happened at Five Points on that Sunday afternoon in 1944 when the blood of American soldiers was spilled in the snow. The victims were members of Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The function of this lightly-armed technical unit was to locate enemy artillery and then transmit their position to other units.
No two accounts of the tragedy agree, not even on the number that were killed. The official report said 86 were shot and there are 86 names on the Memorial Wall that has been erected at the site, but the Malmedy Massacre trial was based on the murder of the 72 soldiers whose bodies were autopsied after they were recovered on January 13, 1945, buried under two feet of snow.
According to the story that was pieced together by the American survivors, Peiper's assault unit had destroyed around a dozen American army spotter planes that day and had captured a group of American soldiers, who had been forced to ride along as Peiper's men continued down the road on their tanks. At the crossroads, the German tanks caught up with the American soldiers of Battery B, 285th Battalion which had just left the village of Malmedy and were traveling the same road, bound for the same destination. A US Military Policeman, Homer Ford, was directing traffic as a column of artillery vehicles, led by Lt. Virgil Lary, passed through the intersection, headed for the nearby village of St. Vith.
A five-minute battle ensued in which approximately 50 Americans were killed. Some of the Americans tried to escape by hiding in the Cafe Bodarwé at the crossroads, but Peiper's SS soldiers set the cafe on fire and then heartlessly gunned down those who tried to run out of the building. Survivors of the massacre said that the SS soldiers then assembled those who had surrendered after the battle in a field beside the Cafe. Madame Adele Bodarwé, the owner of the Cafe, was killed during the action, most likely by the Germans; her death was confirmed later by her husband who was serving in the German Army at the time.
The following information, given to Charles Corbin when he interviewed Henri Rogister, a Belgian historian who researched the Battle of the Bulge, is from the web site of the Third Armored Spearhead Divison:
Quote from Henri Rogister in his interview with Charles Corbin:
Some testimony explain that American soldiers take refuge in the Café Bodarwé, and Americans tell The Germans killed them in there. I think no because The Germans burned the barn and the Café Bodarwé at the same time. For me there is no American soldiers killed in the barn and the Café, because I speak with Mr. Bodarwé and after the investigation in 1945 there was only a small part of a body found, maybe it was Mrs. Bodarwé. There is a German soldier named Kurt Briesemeister a tank commander who have a testimony where he tell it is a German who kill a woman at the Baugnez crossroads. Henri Lejoly who was living in Baugnez at this time, assisted with the Massacre, he have a story where he also thinks the Germans killed Madam Bodarwé.
According to Charles Whiting in his book entitled The Traveler's Guide to The Battle for the German Frontier, "The Americans huddled in a field to the right of the pub, some of them with their hands on their helmets in token of surrender; others smoking and simply watching the SS armor pull away, leaving their POWs virtually unguarded."
Peiper's tank unit continued down the road, after leaving behind a few SS men to guard the prisoners. Legend has it that Lt. Col. Peiper, who had an excellent command of the English language, passed the scene and called out to the American prisoners, "It's a long way to Tipperary."
According to Whiting's book, Peiper had heard that an American General was in the next village and he was on his way to capture him. General Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned in his autobiography, "Crusade in Europe," that there was some concern among the American generals about being captured, although he didn't mention Peiper by name.
Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper
At the Dachau proceedings, Lt. Virgil Lary was able to identify Pvt. 1st Class Georg Fleps, a Waffen-SS soldier from Rumania, who allegedly fired the first two shots with his pistol. Some versions of the story say that he fired a warning shot in the air when several prisoners tried to make a run for it. Other versions say that he deliberately took aim and shot one of the Americans. Panic ensued and the SS soldiers then began firing upon the prisoners with their machine guns. The survivors testified that they had heard the order given to kill all the prisoners: "Macht alle kaputt."
According to the testimony of three survivors who played dead, the SS murderers were laughing as they walked among the fallen American soldiers and shot those who still showed signs of life. The autopsies showed that 41 of the Americans had been shot in the head and 10 had head injuries consistent with being bashed with a rifle butt. Curiously, most of the victims were not wearing their dog tags, although all of them were identified by their personal effects, since there were no wallets or watches taken by the Germans.
1st. Lt. Virgil Lary points out Sturmmann Georg Fleps
Private Georg Fleps, who is shown in the photograph above, was sentenced to death by hanging, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Forty-two of the accused were sentenced to death, but all the sentences were commuted to life after a Congressional investigation determined that there had been misconduct by members of the prosecution team.
The photograph below shows one of the survivors, an American soldier named Kenneth Ahrens, on the witness stand as he demonstrates how he held up his hands to surrender. Seated beside him is the interpreter who was responsible for translating his words into German for the benefit of the accused.
Kenneth Ahrens demonstrates how he surrendered
The exact number of soldiers who surrendered to the Germans is unknown, but according to various accounts, it was somewhere between 85 and 125. After the captured Americans were herded into the field at the crossroads, they were allegedly shot down by Waffen-SS men from Peiper's Battle Group in what an American TV documentary characterized as an orgy motivated by German "joy of killing."
Forty-three of the Americans taken prisoner that day managed to escape and lived to tell about it. One of them was Kenneth Ahrens, pictured above, who was shot twice in the back. Seventeen of the survivors ran across the snow-covered field, and made their way to the village of Malmedy where they joined the 291st Engineer Battalion.
The massacre occurred at approximately 1 p.m. on December 17th and the first survivors were picked up at 2:30 p.m. on the same day by a patrol of the 291st Engineer Battalion. Their story of the unprovoked massacre was immediately sent to General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the war in Europe, who made it a point to disseminate the story to the reporters covering the battle.
One of the news reporters at the Battle of the Bulge was America's most famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was covering the war for Collier's magazine. When the gory details of the Malmedy Massacre reached the American people, there was a great outcry for justice to be done. To this day, the Malmedy Massacre is spoken of as one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the hated Waffen-SS soldiers.
The Inspector General of the American First Army learned about the massacre three or four hours after the first survivors were rescued. By late afternoon that day, the news had reached the forward American divisions. In his book , entitled "The Ardennes, The Battle of the Bulge," Hugh Cole wrote the following:
Thus Fragmentary Order 27 issued by Headquarters, 328th Infantry on 21 December for the attack scheduled for the following day says: "No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight."
In his book called "The Other Price of Hitler's War: German Military & Civilian Losses Resulting from WW 2," author Martin Sorge wrote the following regarding the events that took place after the massacre:
"It was in the wake of the Malmedy incident at Chegnogne that on New Year's Day 1945 some 60 German POWs were shot in cold blood by their American guards. The guilt went unpunished. It was felt that the basis for their action was orders that no prisoners were to be taken."
America had signed the Geneva Convention of 1929 which required the treatment of German POWs according to the rules of the convention. In the Dachau trials of concentration camp staff members, the judges had ruled that Germany was required to follow the rules of the Geneva convention, which they had signed, even with respect to Russian POWs, although the Russians had not signed the convention and were not following its rules.
No American soldier was ever punished for the killing of German POWs; the accused Germans were not even allowed to mention in court that German POWs had been murdered in cold blood by American soldiers, including those killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
Today, there are also "deniers" such as disgraced historian, David Irving, who claim that there was no massacre at all, and that these American soldiers were killed in a battle with the Germans which took place at the crossroads.
Some of the SS men, who were convicted by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, are still alive, but they tend to keep a low profile because even now, more than 60 years after the incident at the crossroads, they are afraid of losing their pensions or suffering reprisals if they speak out. The following description was given recently by a member of the 2nd SS Panzer Division of the Leibstandarte Hitler Jugend, who was convicted and sentenced to prison, together with a number of his comrades, for his involvement in the Malmedy Massacre. For obvious reasons, he wishes to remain anonymous. The following is his account:
"Our tanks were coming under American fire; the leading Tank was hit and its crew bailed out; the following tanks pushed it off the road and we kept going; a few kilometers on, a small group of (approximately 14) American infantrymen surrendered to us and they laid down their weapons. We radioed back to tell the troops behind us to gather up the American POWs and one of our soldiers was left behind to guard them.
A short while later we got a call from our Infantry to say they had arrived at the scene to pick up the American POWs and had come under heavy fire; apparently the Americans who had previously surrendered had jumped and killed the soldier left to guard them and, together with more Americans that had arrived in the meantime, had laid an ambush for the SS that came to pick them up. Colonel Peiper sent some Tanks and ground troops back to assist.
A heavy battle ensued, with hand-to-hand combat, whereby heavy casualties were taken on both sides. The Germans won the battle and gathered up their dead and wounded leaving the bodies of the Americans. It was later claimed the Americans killed in hand-to-hand combat were "beaten to death" by the SS, which is true, except it occurred in battle and not after they were captured.
When the war ended, I was arrested along with the remaining members of my regiment and put on trial by the Americans. All of us were kept in cells with no lights and when we were taken out of the cells they put sacks over our heads and we were beaten almost daily. The men in my regiment who had taken part in the battle at the crossroads were tortured very badly; they had their noses broken and their testicles were crushed and they were beaten until they signed confessions that they had massacred the Americans. These men were sentenced to death.
Because I had not been at the crossroads battle, but at the front a few kilometers away, I was given 20 years hard labor instead of the death sentence; even the crew of the tank that had been hit first and left kilometers behind were given 20 year sentences.
It wasn't until an American Judge later discovered that the confessions had been tortured out of my comrades that many of the sentences were reduced."
Continue Malmedy Massacre Trial
SS Lt. Heinz Tomhardt listens as his death sentence is read
The photograph above shows a very young German SS soldier, who was one of the accused in the Malmedy Massacre trial, as the death sentence is read to him. His defense attorney, Lt. Col. Willis M. Everett, stands on the right. Four of the SS men who were sentenced to death were only 18 years old.
The Battle of the Bulge was no ordinary battle; it was one of the biggest land battles of World War II and resulted in the highest number of American casualties. It was a surprise attack by the Germans through the Ardennes Forest, Hitler's last desperate attempt to split the Allied armies and reverse the course of the war. There had long been rumors that Hitler was secretly developing a "miracle weapon," and it was at the Battle of the Bulge that the jet airplane was first used by the Germans.
The area in Belgium where the battle was fought had been the scene of similar battles in 1870, 1914 and 1940. This was Hitler's last stand, the last counteroffensive of the German army, and the Germans knew that if this battle were lost, the war would most likely be lost. The battle was very intense with the Germans putting everything they had into it.
As John Toland wrote, regarding the gallant battle fought by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge: "Boys of fourteen and fifteen died, rifles frozen to their hands; men in their fifties were found in cellars, feet black with putrefaction." Hitler was counting on Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, whose soldiers had fought heroically against the Soviet Communists on the Eastern front, to save the Fatherland from the "Judeo-Bolsheviks" by winning this crucial battle in Belgium.
Dietrich assigned Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper the great honor of leading the battle group which would spearhead the attack. Peiper was a veteran of the greatest tank battle of all time, fought between the German Tiger tanks and the Russian T-34 tanks at Kursk in July 1943. At almost 30 years of age, Peiper was the youngest combat colonel in the Waffen-SS and he was on track to becoming the youngest General in this elite German army. He had been awarded the Iron Cross first class for bravery in battle, and was regarded as one of Germany's leading experts in tank warfare. Under his command, Peiper's 1 SS Panzer Korps had disabled more than one hundred Russian tanks in combat.
Such was Peiper's reputation as a panzer ace that his defense attorney made the suggestion that he should be brought to America as a consultant in America's Cold War with the Soviet Union. In fact, General Heinz Guderian, Germany's leading expert in armored strategy, had been brought to Ft. Knox after the war to advise the American Army on tank warfare. Peiper and his men had already been interviewed extensively in prison by US Army tactical experts.
In the first few days of the battle, there was mass confusion caused by a team of 28 Germans dressed in American uniforms, led by the famous commando Otto Skorzeny. Riding in stolen American jeeps, they created havoc by directing American troops down the wrong road, changing signposts and cutting telephone wires to General Bradley's field headquarters. Four of the team were captured and when they confessed their mission, the American army immediately broadcast the news that there were thousands of Germans operating behind enemy lines. Skorzeny and his men were later brought before the American military tribunal at Dachau in another proceeding.
Otto Skorzeny, famous German commando
Otto Skorzeny, shown in the photo above, was acquitted after the presiding judge allowed testimony that the American military had committed the same crime of wearing enemy uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge. Although he was acquitted, Skorzeny was still held in prison after the verdict; he finally escaped and fled to South America.
John Toland described the opening scene of the battle in the following passage from his book entitled Adolf Hitler:
By midnight the Ardennes battlefield was in turmoil, a scene of indescribable confusion to those involved in the hundreds of struggles. No one - German or American, private or general - knew what was really happening. In the next two days a series of disasters struck the defenders. On the snowy heights of the Schnee Eiffel at least 8000 Americans - perhaps 9000 for the battle was too confused for accuracy - were bagged by Hitler's troops. Next to Bataan, it was the greatest mass surrender of Americans in history.
The enlisted men among the Malmedy Massacre accused averaged less than 22 years in age. There were only 30 men who were original members of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler, including Lt. Col. Peiper and General Sepp Dietrich. Many of the accused SS soldiers were baby-faced, uneducated 17 and 18-year-olds with little combat experience, but a few others were some of the toughest and most battle-hardened men in the German armed forces, who had been in combat for six years. They had fought some fierce battles on the Eastern front and seen unbelievable atrocities committed by our Russian allies, including mutilated bodies on the battlefield, sodomy on German POWs and cannibalism in which parts of the bodies of German POWs had been sliced off and eaten.
The photograph below, taken in the fall of 1941 on the eastern front, was published in a book by Professor Franz W. Seidler who found it in the files of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, Case 304, after the war.
Body of German soldier in Russian POW Camp 2, Stalag 305, 1941
Because the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention of 1929, the Germans were not required to observe the international rules of warfare with regard to our Russian allies who were committing the most sickening atrocities on the battlefield with no regard for the unwritten rules of civilized warfare.
During the proceedings, the prosecution contended that Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper had instructed his men to fight as they had fought against the Russians, disregarding international law about the treatment of prisoners of war. The defendants testified that they had been instructed to take no prisoners, but they understood this to mean that because they were fighting in a tank unit, they were supposed to send POWs to the rear to picked up by infantry units.
Gen. Sepp Dietrich is No. 11, Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper is No. 42
In the photograph above, General Sepp Dietrich is No. 11; he was sentenced to death by hanging. Next to him is Prisoner No. 33, General Fritz Krämer, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Prisoner No. 45 is General Hermann Priess who was sentenced to life in prison, but his sentence was commuted to 20 years. No. 42 is Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper who was sentenced to death by hanging.
Besides the killing of 72 American soldiers at the Baugnez Crossroads, near the village of Malmedy, there were many other charges against the 73 accused. The charge sheet specifically stated that the 73 accused men
"did....at, or in the vicinity of Malmedy, Honsfeld, Büllingen, Lignauville, Stoumont, La Gleize, Cheneux, Petit Thier, Trois Ponts, Stavelot, Wanne and Lutre-Bois, all in Belgium, at sundry times between 16 December 1944 and 13 January 1945, willfully, deliberately, and wrongfully permit, encourage, aid, abet, and participate in the killings, shooting, ill treatment, abuse and torture of members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, then at war with the then German Reich, who were then and there surrendered and unarmed prisoners of war in the custody of the then German Reich, the exact names and numbers of such persons being unknown aggregating several hundred, and of unarmed civilian nationals, the exact names and numbers of such persons being unknown."
In all, the accused were charged with murdering between 538 to 749 nameless Prisoners of War and over 90 unidentified Belgian civilians in the locations mentioned on the charge sheet, which is quoted above. The accused SS men claimed that the civilians, who were killed, had been actively aiding the Americans during the fighting. According to the rules of the Geneva Convention, shooting partisans was allowed.
The prosecution claimed that General Sepp Dietrich, on direct orders from Hitler himself, had urged the SS men to remember the German civilians killed by the Allied bombing, and to disregard the rules of warfare that were mandated by the Hague Convention of 1907 and the 1929 Geneva convention. This meant that all of the accused were charged with participating in a conspiracy of evil that came from the highest level, the moral equivalent of the Nazi conspiracy to exterminate all the Jews in Europe, which was one of the charges against the major German war criminals at Nuremberg.
Several movies and TV documentaries have been made about the Malmedy Massacre including one made in the 1960ies entitled "Battleground." Hans Schmidt, who was a young SS soldier with the LAH division during the Battle of the Bulge, made fun of this movie in his autobiographical book, "SS Panzergrenadier." He wrote that the machine gun shown in this move was a type used in World War I. In the massacre scene in this movie, SS men are hiding in a tarpaulin-covered truck when "Suddenly the ramp of the truck was opened and the SS soldiers began shooting at the helpless captives." Schmidt wrote that after forty or fifty years this "dastardly scene still has today the same anti-German effect on young, innocent Americans as it had then."
Quoted below is Schmidt's version of the Malmedy Massacre, which is included in his book "SS Panzergrenadier, " published in 2002:
A day into the German attack, after the spearhead of the First SS Panzer Division under the command of Colonel Jochen Peiper overcame the initial American defenses near the Belgian-German border, the German forces ran into a column of nearly 200 American soldiers belonging to Battery B, 285th Field Observation Battalion that had been ordered to join other U.S. forces in the vicinity. This unfortunate American unit was traveling in their (no doubt well-closed - to ward off the cold) vehicles, seemingly unaware of the Germans nearby. Actually, both the German and American units ran into each other, with the Germans being the more alert since they were the very head of an entire Panzer army.
As can be expected, the German force (consisting mainly of five tanks and a few accompanying vehicles) opened fire when they came upon the enemy, immediately aiming at the very first and the very last of the American vehicles, as was a battle custom, and then raked the entire column with their machine guns and a number of shells from tank cannon, creating an inferno of burning and exploding American trucks and Jeeps. The GIs were totally surprised, and offered little resistance. According to everybody involved, the entire action lasted about ten minutes, after which most of the GIs surrendered.
Since the German commander, Colonel Peiper, had the order to reach a certain target at a given time, he did what can be seen in numerous WW2 newsreels of Third Reich war footage when rapidly advancing German tank units took enemy prisoners: the Americans were disarmed (but seemingly not body searched), and merely told to assemble in a clearing beside the road, lightly guarded by a few Germans in two vehicles, a half-track and probably a VW Schwimmwagen. The bulk of the German force continued, almost without interruption, on its way.
Once the tanks and other vehicles of Peiper's spearhead were out of sight, some of the Americans realized that they far outnumbered the handful of Germans guarding them. Knowing that American-occupied Malmedy was but a few thousand yards away, they saw an opportunity to escape into the nearby forest. The watchful Germans obviously saw this and fired at the escapees.
As a result, all hell broke loose. Many of the GIs had heard U.S. propaganda stories of the SS massacring their prisoners, and they believed that their end was near. They also tried to flee. Others remained on the spot where they stood in the snow, and merely did what soldiers do when firing begins: They hugged the ground, and looked for cover. Still other GIs (actually only very few) pulled the handguns they had hidden, or grabbed rifles that were still lying around and fired back at the German guards.
A few minutes later, after some of the Americans had made their escape, the German main force entered the area, traveling the same road as Peiper's group. Hearing the small arms fire, the German soldiers on the first vehicles of the main battle group undoubtedly were ready for action when they came upon the scene of the skirmish, and they also fired at the Americans.
Several minutes more, and this shooting also ended again with the Americans surrendering. This time the captured remainder of the Americans were more heavily guarded until the German main force had passed, and then they were marched back toward the east, into captivity. According to one source I spoke to, about 120 GIs counted as survivors of the "massacre" but I was never able to get a confirmation of this number. I maintain that had it been the German aim to really "massacre" the Americans at the Baugnez crossroads, they would have killed them all.
On December 17th, there was low visibility due to weather and terrain conditions in the Ardennes mountain region. And anybody who has seen the result of the rapid fire of a MG-42 on a column of soldiers can imagine the carnage that had occurred after the first GIs began to flee. This fastest machine gun of World War II could theoretically be fired at a rate of 1,550 rounds per minute, three times as fast as the .30 caliber American heavy (water cooled) machine gun then still in use.
Malmedy Massacre Trial
Only few Americans had a chance to make it to their own forces stationed at Malmedy, andsome of these honestly believed to have been the survivors of a premeditated massacre. About two decades ago, I attended a meeting of American ex-POWs in Washington, DC. Many of these former GIs had been captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Fortunately, I was able to talk to one of the fellows who had managed to escape during the shooting at the Baugnez crossing and make his way back to the American lines. He was one of those men who testified after the war against the Waffen-SS soldiers at the infamous "Malmedy Massacre Trial." In essence he confirmed the story of the incident as I have explained it above. After all these years he still thought it wrong for the Germans to have shot at a couple of escapees since this action resulted in the pandemonium that caused additional American deaths. When I asked him what he would have done, had he been ordered to guard German captives and one or more had tried to escape, he answered that he would have shot them. I was unable to convince this ex-GI that this was all the Waffen-SS guards did in this case.
"It's so long ago now. Even I don't know the truth. If I had ever known it, I have long forgotten it. All I knew is that I took the blame as a good CO should and was punished accordingly." Jochen Peiper, quoted in A Traveler's Guide to the Battle for the German Frontier by Charles Whiting
Lt. Col. Joachim Peiper on the witness stand, June 17, 1946
The Malmedy Massacre proceedings were conducted like a US Army court martial, except that only a two-thirds majority vote by the panel of 8 judges was needed for conviction. Each of the accused was assigned a number because it was hard to keep the names of the 73 men straight. They all wore their field uniforms, which had been stripped of the double lighting bolt SS insignia and all other military emblems and medals.
The proceedings lasted for only two months, during which time both the prosecution and the defense presented their cases. Fearful that they might incriminate themselves on the witness stand, their defense attorney, Lt. Col. Everett, who believed that they were guilty, persuaded most of the SS soldiers not to testify on their own behalf. Col. Joachim Peiper, pictured above, volunteered to take all the blame if his men could go free, but this offer was declined by the court.
The courtroom was in the Dachau complex where the former concentration camp was located. The tall chimney of the Dachau crematorium loomed in the distance, only a quarter of a mile away from where the Jewish "law member" of the court sat under a huge American flag pinned to the wall. It had been only a little more than a year since soldiers in the American Seventh Army had liberated Dachau on April 29, 1945 and had discovered the horror of the gas chamber at Dachau and dead bodies piled up in the morgue of the crematorium building. In June 1945, the former Dachau concentration camp became War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 where the accused German war criminals were held while they awaited trial by the American Military Tribunal.
Col. Peiper listens to closing statement with his arms folded
After only 2 hours and 20 minutes of deliberation by the panel of judges, all 73 of the accused SS soldiers, who were on trial, were convicted. Each of the accused was required to stand before the judges with his defense attorney, Lt. Col. Everett, by his side, as the sentence was read aloud.
Waiting for the Malmedy Massacre verdict outside the courtroom
Forty-two of the accused were sentenced to death by hanging, including Col. Peiper. Peiper made a request through his defense attorney that he and his men be shot by a firing squad, the traditional soldier's execution. His request was denied. General Sepp Dietrich was sentenced to life in prison along with 21 others. The rest of the accused were sentenced to prison terms of 10, 15 or 20 years.
None of the convicted SS soldiers were ever executed and by 1956, all of them had been released from prison. All of the death sentences had been commuted to life in prison. As it turned out, the Malmedy Massacre proceedings at Dachau, which were intended to show the world that the Waffen-SS soldiers were a bunch of heartless killers, became instead a controversial case which dragged on for over ten years and resulted in criticism of the American Occupation, the war crimes military tribunals, the Jewish prosecutors at Dachau and the whole American system of justice.
Before the last man convicted in the Dachau proceedings walked out of Landsberg prison as a free man, the aftermath of the case had involved the US Supreme Court, the International Court at the Hague, the US Congress, Dr. Johann Neuhäusler, a Bishop from Munich, who was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp, and the government of the new Federal Republic of Germany. All of this was due to the efforts of the defense attorney, Lt. Col. Willis M. Everett.
James J. Weingartner, the author of "A Peculiar Crusade: Willis M. Everett and the Malmedy Massacre," wrote the story of the Dachau proceedings from information provided by Everett's family and gleaned from his letters and diary. According to Weingartner, shortly before the proceedings were to begin, defense attorney Lt. Col. Everett interviewed a few of the 73 accused with the help of an interpreter. Although the accused were being held in solitary confinement and had not had the opportunity to consult with each other, most of them told identical stories of misconduct by their Jewish interrogators.
The accused claimed that they had already had a trial, which was conducted in a room with black curtains, lit only by two candles. The judge was a Lt. Col. who sat at a table draped in black with a white cross on it. After these mock trials in which witnesses testified against the accused, each one was told that he had been sentenced to death, but nevertheless he would have to write out his confession. When all of them refused to write a confession, the prosecution dictated statements which they were forced to sign under threats of violence. There was no question that these mock trials had actually taken place, since the prosecution admitted it during the investigation after the Dachau proceedings ended.
According to Weingartner, Lt. Col. Peiper presented to Everett a summary of allegations of abuse made to him by his soldiers. They claimed that they were beaten by the interrogators and that one of the original 75 accused men, 18-year-old Arvid Freimuth, had hanged himself in his cell after being repeatedly beaten. A statement, supposedly written by Freimuth, although portions of it were not signed by him, was introduced during the proceedings as evidence against the other accused. As in the Nuremberg IMT and the other Dachau proceedings, the accused were charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, as well as with specific incidents of murder, so Freimuth's statement was relevant to the case, even after he was no longer among the accused himself.
An important part of the defense case was based on the fact that the accused were classified as Prisoners of War when they were forced to sign statements incriminating themselves even before they were charged with a war crime. As POWs, they were under the protection of the Geneva Convention of 1929 which prohibited the kind of coercive treatment that the accused claimed they had been subjected to in order to force them to sign statements of guilt. Article 45 of the Geneva Convention said that Prisoners of War were "subject to the laws, regulations and orders in force in the armies of the detaining powers." That meant that they were entitled to the same Fifth Amendment rights as American soldiers.
After being held in prison for an average of five months, the SS Malmedy veterans were charged as war criminals on April 11, 1946, a little over a month before their case before the American military tribunal was set to begin. By virtue of the charge, they were automatically reduced to the status of "civilian internee" and no longer had the protection of the Geneva Convention.
As quoted by Weingartner, the defense made the following argument at the trial:
"As previously outlined, International Law laid down certain safeguards for treatment of prisoners of war, and any confession or statement extracted in violation thereof is not admissible in a court martial or any subsequent trial under a code set up by Military Government. If a confession from a prisoner of war is born in a surrounding of hope of release or benefit or fear of punishment or injury, inspired by one in authority, it is void in its inception and not admissible in any tribunal of justice.
Could anyone, by artifice, conjure up the theory that the Military Government Rules and Ordinances are superior to the solemn agreements of International Law as stated in the Geneva Convention of 1929? Is this court willing to assume the responsibility of admitting these void confessions?....It is not believed that the Court will put itself in the anomalous position of accepting statements into evidence which were elicited from prisoners of war in contravention of the Geneva Convention and therefore a violation of the Rules of Land Warfare on the one hand and then turn squarely around and meet out punishment for other acts which they deem violations of the same laws. To do so would be highly inconsistent and would subject the Court and all American Military Tribunals to just criticism."
Lt. Col. Rosenfeld ruled against a defense motion to drop the charges, based on the above argument, by proclaiming that the Malmedy Massacre accused had never been Prisoners of War because they became war criminals the moment they committed their alleged acts and were thus not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention of 1929. On March 10, 1945, an order signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower had reduced the status of all German POWs to that of "disarmed enemy forces," which meant that they were no longer protected under the rules of the Geneva Convention after the war. Moreover, as the law member of the panel of judges, Lt. Col. Rosenfeld ruled that "to admit a confession of the accused, it need not be shown such confession was voluntarily made...." Contrary to the rules of the American justice system, the German war criminals were presumed guilty and the burden of proof was on them, not the prosecution.
The prosecution case hinged on the accusation that Adolf Hitler himself had given the order that no prisoners were to be taken during the Battle of the Bulge and that General Sepp Dietrich had passed down this order to the commanding officers in his Sixth Panzer Army. This meant that there was a Nazi conspiracy to kill American prisoners of war and thus, all of the accused were guilty because they were participants in a "common plan" to break the rules of the Geneva Convention. Yet General Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army had taken thousands of other prisoners who were not shot. According to US Army figures, there was a total of 23,554 Americans captured during the Battle of the Bulge.
US Army Major Harold D. McCown testified as a witness for Col. Peiper
Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper was not present during the alleged incident that happened at the crossroads near Malmedy. The specific charge against Peiper was that he had ordered the killing of American POWs in the village of La Gleize. Major Harold D. McCown, battalion commander of the 30th Infantry Division's 119th Regiment of the US Third Army, testified for the defense at the trial.
McCown had been one of Peiper's prisoners at La Gleize; he claimed that he had talked half the night with the charismatic Peiper, who allegedly didn't sleep for 9 straight nights at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. McCown had heard the story of Peiper's men shooting prisoners at the crossroads near Malmedy and he asked Peiper about the safety of the Americans at La Gleize. By this time, Peiper's tanks were trapped in the hilltop village of La Gleize and he had set up his HQ in the cellar of the little schoolhouse there. McCown testified that Peiper had given him his word that the American POWs at La Gleize would not be shot, and McCown also testified that he had no knowledge that any prisoners were actually shot there.
Peiper poses for his mug shot at Schwabish Hall prison
The main evidence in the prosecution case was the sworn statements signed by the accused even before they were charged with a war crime, statements which defense attorney Everett claimed were obtained by means of mock trials and beatings in violation of the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929. The war crimes with which they were charged were likewise violations of the Geneva Convention of 1929, a double standard which didn't seem right to defense attorney, Lt. Col. Willis M. Everett.
Another double standard that bothered Everett was that there had been many incidents in which American soldiers were not put on trial for killing German Prisoners of War, but the defense was not allowed to mention this. Any of the accused men who inadvertently said anything about American soldiers breaking the rules of the Geneva Convention were promptly silenced and these comments were stricken from the record.
General Sepp Dietrich was a colorful character, much like General George S. Patton, who was his equivalent in rank. Patton's Army was accused of several incidents in which German prisoners of war were shot, which he admitted in his autobiography. Patton wrote the following entry in his diary on 4 January 1945:
"The Eleventh Armored is very green and took unnecessary losses to no effect. There were also some unfortunate incidents in the shooting of prisoners. I hope we can conceal this."
In another incident involving the shooting of German and Italian Prisoners of War, an American captain was acquitted on the grounds that he had been following the orders of General Patton, who had discouraged American troops from taking prisoners during the landing of the US Seventh Army in Sicily.
Ironically, an incident in which Americans executed German prisoners happened within half a mile of the Dachau courtroom. On April 29, 1945, the day that the SS surrendered the camp at Dachau, American soldiers of the 45th Thunderbird Division of the US Seventh Army lined up surrendered Waffen-SS soldiers against a wall and machine-gunned them down in the SS Training Camp, next to the concentration camp. This was followed by a second incident, on the same day, which happened at a spot very near the courtroom: the killing of SS guards at the Dachau concentration camp after they came down from their guard tower and surrendered with their hands in the air.
A third execution of German soldiers who had surrendered on April 29th, known as the Webling Incident happened in the village of Webling on the outskirts of of the town of Dachau. American soldiers of the 222nd Regiment of the 42nd Rainbow Division executed soldiers of the German Home Guard after they had surrendered. The Home Guard consisted of young boys and old men who were forced into service in the last desperate days of the war to defend their cities and towns.
After an investigation by the US Army resulted in the court martial of the soldiers involved in these killings, General George S. Patton tore up the papers and tossed them in the wastebasket. Col. Howard A. Buechner, the American medical officer who was there when Waffen-SS soldiers were executed during the liberation of Dachau, wrote in his book The Hour of the Avenger, regarding the court martial of soldiers in the 45th Thunderbird Division:
"Public outrage would certainly have opposed the prosecution of American heroes for eliminating a group of sadists who so richly deserved to die."
According to World War II historian, Stephen E. Ambrose, the author of the best-selling book, "Citizen Soldiers," General Maxwell Taylor instructed the men of the 101st Airborne Division to take no prisoners during the Normandy invasion, which they participated in after parachuting into France. Ambrose was a consultant for the HBO TV series called "Band of Brothers," which showed soldiers of the 101st Airborne shooting German Prisoners of War. American audiences cheered when German POWs were gunned down by American soldiers in the Spielberg movie "Saving Private Ryan."
After the war, the Germans attempted to bring a list of 369 murder cases, involving US Army soldiers killing German POWs and wounded men, before a German court, but the cases were thrown out. The list of these 369 killings was published in a German newspaper.
Continue Malmedy Massacre Trial
Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper, 1 SS Panzer Korps
Col. Jochen Peiper, the main one of the 73 accused in the Malmedy Massacre Military Tribunal proceedings, was not a member of the Nazi party, although he had joined the Hitler Youth as a young boy and then, at the age of 19, applied for admission to the elite Waffen-SS in 1934. (He was a Lt. Col. at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, but was promoted to Colonel afterwards.) Sepp Dietrich reviewed his application and admitted him into the "Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler," one of the most prestigious outfits in the SS. In 1943, the Leibstandarte das Reich and Totenkopf divisions were formed into the new 1 SS Panzer Korps, which was sent to the Eastern Front. After the Korps won a decisive battle at Kharkow, more SS outfits were formed and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler was combined with the 2nd SS Panzer Hitler Jugend division to form a new 1 SS Panzer Korps.
Peiper had started his military career as an adjutant to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the arch fiend who masterminded the Holocaust. Himmler is shown in the photograph below on a visit to inspect the troops at the Eastern front, some time after the invasion of Russia in June 1941. He is the man who is wearing an officer's cap in the exact center of the photo, behind the tank.
Heinrich Himmler visits a Waffen-SS tank division on Eastern front
A big part of the reason that Lt. Col. Everett worked so hard to free the Malmedy Massacre accused was that Peiper was a likable, charming man with a charismatic personality. But this was not enough to sway the judges of the American military tribunal, who regarded all SS men as evil. It didn't help that the name of Peiper's outfit contained the words "Adolf Hitler" or that they wore the infamous Death's Head emblem on their caps. The SS guards in the concentration camps wore the same symbol on their caps which might have caused some confusion in the minds of the Americans.
Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper on the Eastern front
After Lt. Col. Everett raised hell about the way the Malmedy Massacre proceedings at Dachau had been conducted, things changed somewhat. In another Dachau proceeding, which began in August 1947, Lt. Col. Otto Skorzeny and nine others were charged as war criminals for the illegal use of US Army uniforms and with killing more than 100 Prisoners of War during the Battle of the Bulge. Lt. Col. Rosenfeld was also the law member of the panel of judges in this proceeding, but this time he allowed defense testimony that US troops had worn German uniforms in combat during World War II in similar efforts to confuse the enemy.
An affidavit from the Malmedy Massacre proceeding was introduced by the prosecution in the Skorzeny case, and when the defense protested, Lt. Col. Rosenfeld dropped the charges of killing POWs. There were no corroborating witnesses for the killings, and Rosenfeld ruled that the case could not be tried on affidavits alone. This was an important ruling because in all the war crimes military tribunals conducted in Germany after World War II, witnesses were not required to appear in person and affidavits were allowed to be entered, so that the defense had no opportunity to cross-examine the person who signed the affidavit.
Although there was an automatic review process in which American military personnel reviewed all the Dachau proceedings, there was no appeal process for war crimes verdicts handed down by the American military court. This did not seem fair to Everett, who was a southern gentleman from a prominent family in Atlanta, GA. Everett prepared a 228-page analysis of the pre-trial interrogations and the trial, which he sent to the officers who would be conducting the automatic review of the case. This report included the accusations against the prosecution interrogators.
When 12 of the death sentences were upheld by the review board, including that of Col. Jochen Peiper, Everett decided to petition the US Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that the 73 accused were being illegally held in Landsberg prison after being convicted as a result of "illegal and fraudulently procured confessions."
When the news of Everett's charges, that the Malmedy Massacre accused had been forced to sign confessions, was leaked to the media, the American public was outraged. World War II was "the Good War" in which Americans fought for their democratic ideals and their freedom. The Malmedy Massacre case had made a mockery of the rights of the accused to a fair trial. This was not the American way. American soldiers had fought and died to preserve this freedom.
The scandal was even worse because the interrogators and the law member of the panel of judges, who were accused of violating the rights of the accused in the Malmedy Massacre case, were Jews who had used their power to get revenge on the defeated Germans for the Nazi crimes against the Jews. There was criticism of the case because so many of the Jews on the prosecution team were not native-born Americans. For example, Everett called them "recent arrivals" and author Freda Utley referred to them as "un-American."
In an article published in the American Mercury in 1954, Freda Utley wrote as follows:
....two of the "un-American" investigators employed by the U.S. Army to extract "confessions" from German prisoners of war, namely, Lt. Colonel Ellis and Lt. Perl, told Judge Von Roden of the Simpson Commission in 1949 that force was necessary in view of the difficulty in obtaining evidence. Perl said: "We had to use persuasive methods." He further admitted that these methods included "some violence and mock trials," and that the prosecution's case in the Malmedy cases rested on the evidence thus obtained.
Colonel A.H. Rosenfeld, who was Chief of the Dachau branch of the U.S. War Crimes Administration until he resigned in 1948, when asked at a press interview before leaving Germany whether there was any truth in the German allegations concerning mock trials, replied, "Yes, of course. We couldn't have made those birds talk otherwise. It was a trick and it worked like a charm."
When the case came to the attention of Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall, he ordered a stay of execution for the 12 men who were scheduled to be hanged in just a few days, and then directed General Lucius D. Clay, the highest authority of the American occupation in Germany to investigate Everett's charges against the prosecution. Not satisfied with that, Royall then appointed a three-man commission, headed by Judge Gordon Simpson of the Texas Supreme Court, to investigate not only the Malmedy Massacre case, but other Dachau proceedings, which had involved the same Jewish interrogators. The other two members of the commission were Judge Edward L. Van Roden and Lt. Col. Charles Lawrence, Jr.
After a six-week investigation conducted from an office which they set up in Munich, the Simpson Commission made its recommendation to Royall. The Commission had looked at 65 mass trials of German war criminals in which 139 death sentences had been handed down. By that time, 152 German war criminals tried at Dachau had already been executed. The 139 men who were still awaiting execution were staff members of the Dachau concentration camp, SS soldiers accused of shooting POWs at Malmedy and German civilians accused of killing Allied pilots who were shot down on bombing missions over Germany. On January 6, 1949, they recommended that 29 of these death sentences, including the 12 death sentences in the Malmedy Massacre case, be commuted to life in prison.
In February 1949, an article entitled "American Atrocities in Germany," which was allegedly written by Judge Van Roden, was published in The Progressive. In his article, Van Roden wrote as follows:
American investigators at the U. S. Court in Dachau, Germany, used the following methods to obtain confessions: Beatings and brutal kickings. Knocking out teeth and breaking jaws. Mock trials. Solitary confinement. Posturing as priests. Very limited rations. Spiritual deprivation. Promises of acquittal. Complaints concerning these third degree methods were received by Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall last Spring (1948).
The statements which were admitted as evidence were obtained from men who had first been kept in solitary confinement for three, four, and, five months. They were confined between four walls, with no windows, and no opportunity of exercise. Two meals a day were shoved in to them through a slot in the door. They were not allowed to talk to anyone. They had no communication with their families or any minister or priest during that time. This solitary confinement proved sufficient in itself in some cases to persuade the Germans to sign prepared statements. These statements not only involved the signer, but often would involve other defendants.
Our investigators would put a black hood over the accused's head and then punch him in the face with brass knuckles, kick him, and beat him with rubber hose. Many of the German defendants had teeth knocked out. Some had their jaws broken.
All but two of the Germans, in the 139 cases we investigated, had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was Standard Operating Procedure with American investigators. Perl admitted use of mock trials and persuasive methods including violence and said the court was free to decide the weight to be attached to evidence thus received. But it all went in.
SS 2nd Lt. Kurt Flamm testified on May 27, 1946
The photograph above shows Herbert Rosenstock, the interpreter, seated next to SS 2nd Lt. Kurt Flamm who is answering questions put to him by the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Burton F. Ellis, who is standing. Note the marks on the face of 2nd Lt. Flamm.
Van Roden also mentioned in his article that the accused in the Dachau proceedings could not be re-tried because the American Army had accepted the Russian idea that "the investigators determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, and the judge merely sets the sentence." By the time his article was published, 100 of the 139 men whose trials had been investigated were dead, including 5 of the 29 men whose sentences they had recommended to be reduced.
As the military governor of the American occupation in Germany, General Clay answered to no higher authority; he continued to order executions to be carried out, although he delayed the executions of the Malmedy Massacre convicted men because of the ongoing controversy. Like Everett, General Clay was a southern gentleman from Atlanta, and like Everett, he had become a hero to the German people when he ordered the Berlin airlift in 1948.
Judge Van Roden ended his article with these words:
The American investigators who committed the atrocities in the name of American Justice and under the American flag are going scot-free. At this point there are two objectives which should be aimed for:
1. Those prisoners whose death sentences have not been commuted and who have not yet been hanged should be saved, pending full judicial review.
2. American investigators who abused the powers of victory and prostituted justice to vengeance, should be exposed in a public process, preferably in the U. S., and prosecuted.
Unless these crimes committed by Americans are exposed by us at home, the prestige of America and American justice will suffer permanent and irreparable damage. We can partially atone for our own misconduct if we first search it out and publicly condemn and disavow it. If we wait for our enemies to blazon our guilt abroad, we can only bow our heads in shamed admission.
Shortly after this article was published in The Progressive, a Senate sub-committee disclosed that the article had actually been written by James Finucane, an anti-war activist who obtained the information used in the article from Rudolf Aschenauer, a German attorney for the accused. Finucane, who was the Associate Secretary of the National Council for Prevention of War, also gave similar information to Senator Joseph McCarthy. Finucane had heard Van Roden speak at a public meeting and had asked him if he could use his name in the byline of an article; Van Roden gave his permission.
Van Roden later testified before the Malmedy Massacre Investigation Hearings Committee on Armed Services in 1949 that he had not written the article himself and that he could not confirm the allegations of physical abuse of the accused. The source for this information is "The Malmedy Massacre" written by Richard Gallagher in 1964.
Prior to the Simpson commission report, the Supreme court had deadlocked in its decision on Everett's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Justice Robert Jackson abstained and refused to vote to break the deadlock on the grounds that he had participated in the prosecution of the major war criminals at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal.
The plan to take the case to the Supreme Court had been a long shot since most legal experts agreed that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction in this case. Everett had left the army by this time and was practicing law as a civilian, but he continued to fight to get a new trial for the Malmedy Massacre accused.
On February 22, 1949 Everett petitioned the International Court at the Hague, alleging that the United States of America had violated international law. Although he knew that his petition would probably be rejected because only a state, not a person, was allowed to petition the International Court, Everett was desperate to delay the scheduled executions of his "Malmedy boys." His reasoning was that Germany was not a state at this point, so he was petitioning on behalf of the German people. He again submitted his report with the accusations of brutality against the prosecution, but his petition was nevertheless rejected.
Meanwhile, in February 1949, Republican Senator William Langer of North Dakota introduced Senate Resolution 39, calling for a Senate investigation of the US military justice system in occupied Germany. He then inserted Everett's petition to the Supreme Court, with its sordid accusations against the Jewish prosecutors, into the Congressional Record. An ad hoc subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Republican Senator Raymond Baldwin of Connecticut, was formed to investigate Everett's accusations.
Senator Baldwin was an attorney in the law firm of Pullman and Comely, where one of his associates in the firm was Dwight Fanton, who had been in charge of the Malmedy Massacre case before Burt Ellis took over. Along with Morris Ellowitz, one of the accused interrogators, Fanton denied during a press conference that any improper methods of interrogation had been used.
Another member of the subcommittee was Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver, who had practiced law with Raphael Schumacker, the second most important member of the prosecution team in the Malmedy Massacre case. Normally, an investigation such as this would have been held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but in his book "A Peculiar Crusade," author Weingartner wrote that "The army had been successful in getting the investigation switched from the Judiciary Committee to Baldwin's subcommittee."
In March 1949, about a month before Baldwin's subcommittee began its hearings, General Lucius D. Clay commuted 6 more of the death sentences to life in prison, but not the death sentence of Col. Jochen Peiper, who was the main person in the Malmedy Massacre case. Peiper did not personally shoot any American Prisoners of War, but he was the one who had allegedly ordered his armored unit not to take prisoners.
Pvt. Samuel Bobyns attempts to identify the SS man who saved his life
In the photo above, Private Samuel Bobyns, a U.S. Army ambulance driver, gets admiring glances from two secretaries as he attempts to identify the accused SS man who saved his life. The woman on the left, who is wearing glasses, is Veronika Gal Sors, a Hungarian Jewess who was sent to Dachau from Budapest, Hungary in 1944. Because she spoke fluent English and German, Veronika was employed as an interpreter by the U.S. Army until 1947.
Senator Joseph McCarthy, who later became well known for conducting a witch hunt for Communists in America, first gained notoriety as a member of the Baldwin subcommittee, where he took Everett's side. Senator McCarthy withdrew from the hearings in protest when it became clear to him that the committee was biased in favor of the Malmedy Massacre prosecutors. In a speech on the Senate floor on July 26, 1949, McCarthy accused Senator Baldwin and Senator Kefauver of "white-washing" the investigation because of their close association with two of the men under investigation.
The subcommittee was presented with post-trial affidavits from the SS men which were consistent in alleging that they had been beaten and coerced into making confessions. A dentist signed an affidavit that the SS men had suffered broken teeth and fractured jaws. According to Weingartner's book, Herbert Strong, the German-born Jewish civilian attorney, who had assisted the defense team at Dachau, testified that "Colonel Rosenfeld had been prejudiced against the defense, having ruled too often against it when the law seemed to be on its side."
Another witness, court reporter James J. Bailey, testified that he had seen Jewish interrogator Lt. William Perl strike the German prisoners. Kurt Teil, an interpreter for the army, testified that both Perl and another Jewish interrogator, Harry Thon, had spoken approvingly to him about violent methods of interrogation, and claimed that Thon showed him one of the SS men who was lying motionless in his cell with a hood still over his head after he had been interrogated.
When a member of the committee asked why a medical examination of the SS men had not been conducted to determine if they had been beaten, an examination was ordered three years after the fact, and the results showed that none of the men had scars or damaged testicles.
On October 13, 1949, the subcommittee published its proceedings, including its final report. According to Weingartner in his book "A Peculiar Crusade," the final report concluded, in Weingartner's words, that
On the basis of the medical examinations, allegations that physical force had been employed to induce confessions were rejected as being without foundation.
That mock trials had been employed, albeit in only a handful of cases, could not be denied and was condemned in the report, but less as an illegitimate device than as an unnecessary complication of the investigative process that could be misinterpreted or misrepresented by critics.
The German defendants, in the subcommitte's view, had been abnormal human beings, a condition that had both necessitated and justified the use of creative investigative techniques.
The senators conceded that the threat of withholding ration cards from family members had, on occasion, been used against certain suspects; they could hardly have done otherwise, since one of the interrogators questioned by the subcommittee had testified to the use of that tactic. The subcommittee did not condemn the use of the stratagem but expressed doubt that such threats could have had much effect "on the type of individual under interrogation."
Beyond expressing the opinion that the investigation would have been better handled if personnel trained for such work had been available and noting, in what might have been a veiled version of Everett's anti-Semitism, that the use of interrogators who were not native-born Americans had aggravated the "natural resentment that exists with a conquered country," the subcommittee found little reason for substantive criticism of the pretrial investigation.
The unfavorable report of the Baldwin subcommittee was the end of the line for Everett. He had spent $40,000 to $50,000 of his own money on the case, or the equivalent of half a million dollars in today's money. His law practice was neglected as he worked tirelessly to free the Malmedy Massacre accused, long after he had left the army. His health was ruined and a heart attack had prevented him from personally testifying before the subcommittee. There was nowhere else that he could go to get a retrial for the six "Malmedy boys" still on death row at Landsberg prison.
In the middle of 1949, the US Army was replaced by the US State Department as the occupation authority in Germany under High Commissioner John McCloy, who was now the civilian authority who represented the United States in its zone of occupation. General Clay was replaced by General Thomas T. Handy as the highest military authority in Germany. In September 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany was set up under the leadership of Konrad Adenauer, although West Germany was still under American occupation. The Simpson Commission had recommended a clemency and parole board for convicted German war criminals and this was implemented at the end of 1949.
According to Weingartner, the last 6 death sentences of the men convicted in the Malmedy Massacre proceeding were finally commuted by General Handy in 1951, after the fledgling Federal Republic government demanded a halt to the execution of German war criminals as a necessary precondition to rearmament and their cooperation with the Allies in the Cold War against the Communist Soviet Union. In 1955, a Mixed Parole and Clemency Board was set up with 3 Germans and one representative each from the US, Great Britain and France, and as a result, General Sepp Dietrich was paroled in October 1955.
But it was not that easy for General Dietrich to escape justice, since he was one of Hitler's closest associates. Hitler thought so highly of him that he once commented that if he ever had a son, he would want him to be like Dietrich. After he was paroled, Dietrich was tried again by a German court for his role in the execution of 6 SA men in June 1934. As a result of his loyalty to Adolf Hitler, who had ordered the executions, Dietrich rose rapidly in the ranks, although he was a Bavarian peasant who was barely literate. He was convicted by the German court and served 18 more months in prison before he was released in February 1959, due to ill health.
Dietrich was a swashbuckling figure who was so esteemed by the Waffen-SS men that 6,000 of them turned out for his funeral, after his death on April 21, 1966 at the age of 74.
Hitler's favorite general, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich
General Sepp Dietrich, charged with being a war criminal
Eventually all 73 of the convicted German war criminals in the Malmedy Massacre case were released from Landsberg prison, including Col. Peiper who was freed on December 22, 1956, the last of the accused to finally walk out of Landsberg.
Peiper had been born on January 30, 1915, so he was just short of his 30ieth birthday when the Malmedy Massacre happened. If Germany had won the war, Peiper would have been showered with praise and honored as one of his country's greatest heroes, a soldier who had fought honorably for his country. Instead, he ended his military career as a war criminal; he spent 11 of the best years of his life in prison, including 55 months on death row. After he was freed, he could not overcome the stigma of being a convicted war criminal. He took a series of jobs, but was unable to keep any of them. Finally, in 1972, he moved to the French village of Traves.
Just as he was starting to write a book on the Malmedy Massacre, Peiper was killed on July 14, 1976 when his house was firebombed. Peiper had been warned to leave, but he refused; he died as he had lived, with a weapon in his hands, refusing to be driven out of his home. His charred body was found in the ruins of his burned home. The date of July 14th was the French Bastille Day, the equivalent of the American 4th of July. A group of Frenchmen, wearing ski masks were photographed as they announced "We got Peiper." This photo was published on November 7, 1976 in the New York Times Magazine.
The bodies of the Malmedy Massacre victims were buried in temporary graves at Henri-Chappelle, 25 miles north of the village of Malmedy. The temporary cemetery was made into a permanent military cemetery after the war, and 21 of the murdered heroes of the Battle of the Bulge are still buried there. A stone wall has been erected as a memorial in honor of all the victims of the Malmedy Massacre near the site of the tragedy.
Dachau Trials US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont
Trial of 31 war criminals from Buchenwald concentration camp
On March 4, 1947, war crimes charges were brought against Hermann Pister, the Commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp from 1942 to 1945, and 30 others associated with the camp.
The proceedings against the 31 accused Buchenwald war criminals began on April 11, 1947, the second anniversary of the liberation of the camp by the 6th Armored Division of the US Third Army.
The "Buchenwald trial" was held in a courtroom at the Dachau concentration camp complex; it was officially known as US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont, Case No. 000-50-5-9. Waldeck was an SS general and the highest ranking person among the accused.
Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont
Ilse Koch, the wife of former Buchenwald Commandant Karl Otto Koch, was the most famous of the 31 war criminals in the Buchenwald case. She was accused of having prisoners killed at Buchenwald and then having their tattooed skin removed to make human lamp shades.
Among the accused was Hans Merbach, the SS soldier who had been in charge of the transport train on which around 5,000 Buchenwald inmates were transported to the Dachau concentration camp, and only about 25% of them survived the trip. This was the infamous Death Train which was discovered by the American liberators on the day that they liberated the Dachau concentration camp.
The Nazi concentration camps had been declared to be a criminal enterprise by the Allies. Under the Allied concept of co-responsibility which was used in all the World War II war crimes trials, anyone who worked in one of the camps in any capacity was a war criminal. The 31 accused persons in the Buchenwald trial included at least one person who represented each job title in the camp.
The relatively low number of Buchenwald war criminals might have been due to the fact that 76 of the SS staff members had been hunted down and killed by the inmates with the help of the American liberators. It was not a war crime for American soldiers to kill German POWs at that time because General Dwight D. Eisenhower had had the foresight in March 1945 to designate all future German POWs as Disarmed Enemy Forces in order to get around the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which America had signed.
The list of the 31 accused war criminals in the main Buchenwald case is as follows:
Arthur Dietzsch (Kapo)
Dr. Hans Eisele (Camp doctor)
Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen (prisoner)
Hermann Pister (Camp Commandant)
Josias, Erbprinz von und zu Waldeck-Pyrmont (SS general)
Dr. Walter Wendt (Kapo)
Famous photo shows emaciated Buchenwald prisoners
The charges against the 31 accused war criminals in the Buchenwald trial was that they had participated in a "common design" or a "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929. These two conventions stated the rules of warfare pertaining to Enemy Prisoners of War.
Buchenwald was not a prisoner of war camp, but in the proceedings of the American Military Tribunals at Dachau, the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were regarded as detainees who were entitled to the same treatment as POWs under the Geneva Convention of 1929. It was not until 1949, after all the Military Tribunals had been concluded, that a new Geneva Convention gave all detainees the same rights as POWs.
In the photo below, a Russian Prisoner of War points an accusing finger at a German guard whom he claimed had abused him at the Buchenwald camp; this photo was taken on April 14, 1945, three days after the camp was liberated.
Buchenwald guard is identified by a Russian prisoner
Photo Credit: USHMM
A panel of American military officers, guided by "law member" Lt. Col. John S. Dwinell, who made legal rulings, served as both judge and jury for the proceedings. The court president was Brig. Gen. Emil Charles Kiel. The accused were defended by American military officers, led by Captain Emmanuel Lewis, the chief defense counsel. Dr. Richard Wacker was one of the defense attorneys.
The chief prosecutor was 34-year-old Lt. Col. William Denson, who had a conviction rate of 100% in similar proceedings against the staff members of the Dachau, Mauthausen, and Flossenbürg concentration camps.
Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont sentenced to life, August 14, 1947
Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont, the highest ranking prisoner among the accused, was an SS-Obergruppenführer and head of judicial matters in the district which included the city of Weimar and the Buchenwald camp. Waldeck was a member of the German royalty, who had joined the SS in 1929. He is shown in the photograph above, as he faced the Tribunal to hear his sentence of life in prison. His crime was that he had allowed Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who reported directly to Hitler, to maintain a concentration camp at Buchenwald which was in his district.
Waldeck was the one who blew the whistle on Buchenwald Commandant Karl Otto Koch in 1943 after he noticed the name of Dr. Walter Kramer on a list of political prisoners who had been executed on Koch's orders. By that time, Koch had been transferred to the Majdanek death camp in Poland, but his wife, Ilse, was still living at the Commandant's house in Buchenwald. Waldeck ordered a full scale investigation of the camp by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS officer who was a judge in a German court. It was during this investigation that prisoners at Buchenwald told Dr. Morgen about the lampshades allegedly made from human skin.
After American soldiers had liberated the Buchenwald camp, they were astounded when the Communist prisoners took them on a tour of the camp, showing them pieces of tattooed human skin, two shrunken heads, preserved human body parts, an ash tray made from a human bone, and a table lamp with a lampshade allegedly made from human skin. The shrunken heads resembled those made by primitive tribes in South America.
A movie about the Buchenwald camp, directed by famed Hollywood director Billy Wilder, had been made by a film crew of the Signal Corps of the US Army shortly after the liberation of the camp; it included some footage of a display table. The photograph below is a still shot from the film which was shown during the proceedings at Dachau.
Body parts in jars, shrunken heads, tattooed skin and table lamp
The proceedings against the 31 accused in the "Buchenwald trial" began with the showing of the film made by Billy Wilder. The defense objected, pointing out that the film had been made three or four days after the camp came under the control of the American Army, and that it did not show anything that had occurred prior to that time. The objection was overruled and the film was shown. The defense also objected to the display of the two shrunken heads, but this objection was also overruled.
The narration in the film, as quoted by Joshua M. Greene, in his book "Justice at Dachau," is as follows:
This is a pictorial record of the almost unprecedented crimes perpetrated by the Nazis at the Buchenwald concentration camp. In the official report, Buchenwald is termed an extermination factory, and the means of extermination: starvation complicated by hard work, abuse, beatings, tortures, incredibly crowded sleeping conditions, and sicknesses of all types. This is the body disposal plant. There inside are the ovens that gave the crematory a maximum disposal capacity of four hundred bodies per ten-hour day. The ovens are extremely modern in design, made by a firm that specialized in baking ovens. All bodies were finally reduced to bone ash. One of the first things that German civilians from neighboring Weimar see on a forced tour of the camp is the parchment display. A lampshade, made of human skin, made at the request of an SS officer's wife..."
The SS officer's wife, who was mentioned in the film, was none other than Ilse Koch, the "Bitch of Buchenwald," and the wife of the former Commandant, Karl Otto Koch.
Dr. Kurte Sitte, a 36-year-old doctor of Physics at Manchester University who had been a political prisoner at Buchenwald since September 1939, testified at the Buchenwald trial that a shrunken head, which he identified in the courtroom, was the head of a Polish prisoner who had been decapitated on the order of SS Doctor Mueller at Buchenwald. Although the prisoners in all the Nazi camps had their heads shaved, this Polish prisoner had long black hair at the time he was decapitated.
Prosecution witness Dr. Kurte Sitte holds shrunken head in the courtroom
Defense attorney Capt. Emmanuel Lewis objected to the admission of the shrunken head into evidence because Dr. Mueller was not on trial, but his objection was overruled. Under the rules of the American Military Tribunals, any and all evidence was admissible, whether or not it pertained to the case, because the charges against all of the accused was participating in a "common plan" to commit war crimes.
At the suggestion of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a group of newspaper reporters and U.S. Congressmen were flown in from America; they were taken on a grand tour of the Buchenwald camp on April 24, 1945 and shown all the gory artifacts on the display table pictured above. Every major newspaper in America carried the story of how Ilse Koch, the wife of the Commandant, had imperiously ridden her chestnut stallion through the Buchenwald camp, selecting tattooed prisoners to be killed by her lover in order to make human lamp shades for her home.
The nickname, "Bitch of Buchenwald," was given to Isle Koch by a reporter, and it soon became a household word in America. The public couldn't get enough of the lampshade story and the proceedings of the Military Tribunal at Dachau were sensationalized by the media. Film clips from the Buchenwald camp, with footage of the display table, were shown in the newsreels in every American theater. In the two years since the liberation of Buchenwald, Ilse Koch had already been convicted by the media. The Military Tribunal proceedings were filmed and every week, film clips were shown in the newsreels at the movie theaters in America.
After the German Army surrendered to the Allies in May 1945, a total of 1,672 German war criminals were brought before a series of American Military Tribunals, held at the former Dachau concentration camp, between November 1945 and December 1947. These cases against staff members of the Nazi concentration camps were those in which the American military had jurisdiction by virtue of having been the liberators of the camps where the crimes had been committed.
The authority for charging the defeated Germans with war crimes came from the London Agreement, signed on August 8, 1945 by the four winning countries: Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the USA. The basis for the proceedings of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal against the accused German war criminals was Law Order No. 10, issued by the Allied Control Council, the governing body for Germany before the country was divided into East and West Germany. Law Order No. 10 defined Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. A fourth crime category was membership in any organization, such as the Nazi party, the SS or the Gestapo, all of which were declared to be criminal under Law Order No. 10.
In addition to the war crimes prosecuted by the Nuremberg IMT, Law Order No. 10 also gave the authority for each of the Allied countries to conduct trials of their own. The proceedings of the American Military Tribunals at Dachau were conducted according to "the rules and procedure" determined by the Zone Commander of the American Zone of occupation, as authorized by Law Order No. 10.
The following quote is from Article III of Law Order No. 10:
1. Each occupying authority, within its Zone of Occupation,
(d) shall have the right to cause all persons so arrested and charged, and not delivered to another authority as herein provided, or released, to be brought to trial before an appropriate tribunal.
2. The tribunal by which persons charged with offenses hereunder shall be tried and the rules and procedure thereof shall be determined or designated by each Zone Commander for his respective Zone.
Although commonly referred to as "trials," the proceedings at Dachau were technically not trials because the normal rules of court trials in America or Great Britain were not followed. Hearsay testimony was allowed and most of the prosecution witnesses were paid. Affidavits from witnesses were allowed, which meant that the defense had no opportunity to cross-examine the witness who had signed the affidavit.
Interrogators questioned the accused before the proceedings began and established that they were guilty. The accused were not presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
The chief interrogator was 24-year-old Lt. Paul Guth, an American Jew who was born in Vienna and educated in England before emigrating to the United States. It was Guth's job to get confessions from the accused, who were then regarded as guilty until proven innocent. Many of the accused claimed that they had been beaten or tortured during their interrogation.
The persons on trial were not called "defendants" because the burden of proof was on them, not on the prosecution as is customary in a court trial. All that was necessary, to prove that one of the accused war criminals was guilty of being part of a "common plan," was to prove that he had some association with the place where the crimes had been committed.
The basis for the "common plan" concept of co-responsibility was Article II, paragraph 2 of Law Order No. 10 which stated as follows:
2. Any person without regard to nationality or the capacity in which he acted, is deemed to have committed a crime as defined in paragraph 1 of this Article, if he was (a) a principal or (b) was an accessory to the commission of any such crime or ordered or abetted the same or (c) took a consenting part therein or (d) was connected with plans or enterprises involving its commission or (e) was a member of any organization or group connected with the commission of any such crime or (f) with reference to paragraph 1 (a), if he held a high political, civil or military (including General Staff) position in Germany or in one of its Allies, co-belligerents or satellites or held high position in the financial, industrial or economic life of any such country.
Under the rules of Article II, as quoted above, Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont was charged with participating in a "common plan" to commit any or all of the alleged crimes at the Buchenwald concentration camp, even though he was not a member of the staff.
Although there was testimony during the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal that prisoners had been killed in a gas chamber at Buchenwald, no one in the Buchenwald case was specifically charged with this crime. The accused were only charged with crimes against Allied nationals during the time that America was at war with Germany, and since the names of the prisoners who had allegedly been gassed at Buchenwald were unknown, the alleged gas chambers at Buchenwald were not mentioned in the Buchenwald trial.
The room where Ilse Koch and other members of the Buchenwald staff were brought before an American military tribunal was in one of the buildings in the former Dachau concentration camp complex. Extra rows of seats had to be installed in the 200-foot-long courtroom to accommodate the crowd of photographers and reporters who flocked to see the "Bitch of Buchenwald." The accused war criminals who were awaiting trial were housed in the prison barracks of the former Dachau concentration camp.
At the opening of the trial, the court president, Brig. Gen. Emil Charles Kiel, asked the defense counsel, "How do the accused plead?"
To this, Captain Emmanuel Lewis replied:
As chief defense counsel, I enter a plea of not guilty for all of the accused. Before we begin, if it please the court, there is a matter of great concern. The accused are charged with victimizing captured and unarmed citizens of the United States, and they seek to defend themselves against this charge. But despite our repeated requests, the prosecution has failed to furnish us with the name or whereabouts of even one single American victim.
Lt. Col. William D. Denson, the chief prosecutor, replied:
We are unfortunately unable to comply. The victims were last seen being carted into the crematories. From there they went up the chimney in smoke, and all the power of the United States and all the documents in Augsburg cannot tell us which way they went. We are sorry that we cannot furnish their whereabouts, but we fail to see that it is material whether one American or fifty thousand were incarcerated in Buchenwald. The crimes of these accused would be just as heinous.
Contrary to Lt. Col. Denson's colorful story of what had happened to these American POWs, it is now known that, after about three months in Buchenwald, the Americans were rescued by a Luftwaffe General and transferred to Stalag III, a POW camp.
The American prisoners at Buchenwald were members of a group of American Air Force pilots, who had been supplying the French resistance; they were captured after being shot down in France. Buchenwald was one of the main camps for French resistance fighters, and the pilots had been lumped in with captured French civilians who were fighting as insurgents. According to the Geneva Convention of 1929, it was a war crime to aid insurgents in a country that had signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting. Technically, these pilots had violated the Geneva Convention by helping insurgents that were illegal combatants who had continued to fight after their country had surrendered.
The defense motion to have the prosecution furnish the names of the Americans killed at Buchenwald was denied.
In his opening statement in the Buchenwald proceedings, the chief prosecutor, Lt. Col. Denson, asked for the death penalty for each of the accused who was charged with participating in a "common design" to subject the inmates of Buchenwald to "killings, tortures, starvation, beatings, and other indignities." He had not asked for the death penalty for all of the accused in the Dachau, Mauthausen and Flossenbürg cases, but the Buchenwald crimes were much more heinous.
The accused were charged with violations of the Geneva Convention of 1929 with respect to Soviet Prisoners of war, although the Soviet Union had not signed the Convention, and did not treat German POWs according to its laws during the war and for 10 years afterwards.
Regarding the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929 with respect to Soviet POWs, defense attorney Captain Lewis said:
We think that the language of the Convention is simple and clear. It binds only those nations who sign it as between themselves. It is not binding as between a signatory and a nation that has refused to join the family of nations.
In reply, Lt. Col. Denson said the following:
I am perfectly ready, willing, and able to talk at this time of legality and of the law that is to be applied here. In Hall's Treatise on International Law, we have the following quotation: "More than necessary violence must not be used by a belligerent in all his relations with his enemy." The fact that Russia was not a signatory to the convention did not give Germans the right to mistreat Russian Prisoners of War. The Hague and Geneva Conventions were nothing more than a clarification of customs and usages already in practice among civilized nations.
Buchenwald was the site of medical experiments carried out by doctors in the camp in an effort to find a vaccine for typhus, a disease which was devastating all the concentration camps. The Nazis claimed that the subjects of the experiments were condemned criminals who were prisoners in the camp. Bodies of prisoners who died after being forced to participate in the experiments were autopsied by the camp doctors and the internal organs were then preserved in formaldehyde in glass display cases.
America had developed a typhus vaccine which had been sent to American POWs in Red Cross packages during the war. The Germans took great pains to deliver these packages, and consequently 96% of the American POWs in Germany survived their imprisonment, according to the Red Cross.
The doctors in all the Nazi concentration camps delighted in studying and displaying medical oddities, such as human deformities. This was all part of their obsession with eugenics and their plan to breed a superior race. According to Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a Munich bishop who was a prisoner at Dachau, the Dachau concentration camp had a medical museum. He wrote in his book "What was it like in Dachau?" that "The museum containing plaster images of prisoners who were marked by bodily defects or particular characteristics was gladly visited by Hitler's officers." Given this proclivity for displaying medical curiosities, it is not at all surprising that the doctors at Buchenwald removed large sections of tattooed skin from dead prisoners and preserved it.
In the photograph below, a Buchenwald prisoner shows preserved body organs to an American Jewish soldier.
Buchenwald prisoner shows human organs to Corporal Jack Levine
Dr. Eugen Kogon testifies on April 16, 1947 at Dachau
One of the most famous inmates of Buchenwald was 43-year-old Dr. Eugen Kogon, an Austrian Social Democrat and political activist, who was a prisoner there from September 1939 to April 1945. Kogon was the main contributor to The Buchenwald Report, a 400-page book about the Buchenwald camp which was put together in only four weeks by the US Army, after conducting interviews with over 100 former prisoners at the camp. Kogon later wrote a book called "The Theory and Practice of Hell," which was a rewrite of the Buchenwald Report and one of the first books about the Nazi atrocities in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Kogon testified during the Dachau proceedings about the harsh treatment suffered by the prisoners at Buchenwald, although he was one of the privileged political prisoners who actually ran the camp.
Kogon's testimony was contradicted by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen who was the main witness for the defense in the Buchenwald case. Morgen also testified at the Nuremberg IMT in August 1946, before the Buchenwald case came to trial at Dachau. At Nuremberg, Morgen testified on 7 August 1946 regarding the conditions at Buchenwald. In response to a question from the prosecutor at Nuremberg, Morgen had answered as follows:
Q. Did you gain the impression, and at what time, that the concentration camps were places for the extermination of human beings?
A. I did not gain this impression. A concentration camp is not a place for the extermination of human beings. I must say that my first visit to a concentration camp, namely Weimar-Buchenwald, was a great surprise to me. The camp was on wooded heights, with a wonderful view. The installations were clean and freshly painted. There were grass and flowers. The prisoners were healthy, normally fed, sun-tanned, working...
THE PRESIDENT of the Tribunal: When are you speaking of? When are you speaking of?
A. I am speaking of the beginning of my investigations in July, 1943.
Q. What crimes - you may continue - please, be more brief.
A. The installations of the camp were in good order, especially the hospital. The camp authorities, under the Commandant Pister, aimed at providing the prisoners with an existence worthy of human beings. They had regular mail service. They had a large camp library, even with foreign books. They had variety shows, motion pictures, sporting events. They even had a brothel. Nearly all the other concentration camps were similar to Buchenwald.
THE PRESIDENT: What was it they even had?
A. A brothel.
Dachau Trials US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont
Commando 99 - the execution of Soviet Communist Commissars
Hermann Helbig points out the place were Russian POWs were killed
The charge against all of the accused in the main Buchenwald trial was participating in a "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention of 1907. Under this charge, one of the main crimes committed at Buchenwald was the shooting of Soviet Prisoners of War, which was a violation of the Geneva Convention.
The prosecution was of the opinion that the defeated Germans should be held to the rules of the Convention with regard to Soviet POWs, even though the victorious Army of the Soviet Union, which had not signed the Geneva Convention, had committed some of the most horrendous atrocities against captured German soldiers, including sodomy and cannibalism, not to mention the unspeakable actions of the Russian soldiers against innocent German civilians.
At the time that the Buchenwald proceedings were taking place, millions of German POWs were working as slave laborers in the Russian gulags in Siberia. Only a few of them survived this ordeal and finally returned home after 10 years of working as slave laborers.
America had signed the 1929 Geneva Convention and was responsible for treating German POWs according to the rules of the Convention. However, in March 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower had designated all captured German soldiers as Disarmed Enemy Forces who were not entitled to be treated according to the Geneva Convention. At the time that the Buchenwald trial was taking place, the former Dachau concentration camp had been turned into War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 where German soldiers were being denied their rights under the Geneva Convention.
Before the invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, Hitler had ordered that all captured Russian soldiers who were determined to be Communist Commissars were to be brought to one of the major concentration camps and executed. Not all of the Russian POWs were killed, just those who were political functionaries. At Buchenwald, the work of executing the Communist Commissars was done by a group called "Commando 99."
In the photograph above, Hermann Helbig identifies the stable where Russian Commissars were shot. Helbig was one of the executioners. Helbig's defense was that he had been a soldier for 25 years, and that he was only carrying out orders from his superiors. He said that he had no reason to question the legality of the order.
Hermann Pister, the Commandant of Buchenwald, was charged by the Tribunal with being responsible for the executions, although he wasn't present when the executions took place and he was not the person who had given the orders. Under the "common plan" theory, which was unknown in international law, Pister's position as the camp Commandant was enough to make him automatically guilty of a war crime with respect to the execution of the Russian Commissars in his camp.
Rudolf Höss, the former Commandant of Auschwitz, wrote the following in his autobiography, regarding the execution of Soviet POWs who were Communist Commissars:
The reason for this action was given as follows: the Russians were murdering any German soldier who was a member of the Nazi party, especially SS members. Also, the political section of the Red Army had a standing order to cause unrest in every way in any POW camp or places where the POWs worked. If they were caught or imprisoned, they were instructed to perform acts of sabotage.
Horst Dittrich, on the far right, testifies about Commando 99
According to Horst Dittrich, an SS man who was a defendant in a subsidiary trial at Dachau, and a witness for the prosecution at the main Buchenwald trial, the Russian Commissars were killed by a shot fired through a slit in the wall of a medical examination room set up in the horse stable at Buchenwald. This horse stable had originally been built for Ilse Koch, who loved to ride horses, to the accompaniment of music played by an SS orchestra. The photograph above shows Horst Dittrich as he points out the location of the room where the Russian Commissars were executed. Dittrich had confessed during his interrogation, so he was a valuable witness for the prosecution.
Measuring device with slit through which shots were fired
Room where shooter stood behind the slit in the measuring device
The measuring device which was allegedly used to kill Russian Commissars was invented by the Commandant at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, according to the Russians who liberated the Sachsenhausen camp. A film of the Sachsenhausen camp was made by the Russians in which this method of execution was explained. The horse stable at Buchenwald has long since been torn down, but a reconstruction of the measuring device is currently shown at the Buchenwald Memorial Site, as pictured above. The measuring device used at Sachsenhausen is also long gone, and there is no reconstruction of it.
Horst Dittrich had no explanation for why this surreptitious and inefficient method of killing was allegedly used to murder 8,000 Russians at Buchenwald, even though the executions had been ordered by the Reich Security Main Office on the authority of Adolf Hitler himself. Dittrich testified that the room had to be cleaned with a water hose after each execution. At Dachau, 6,000 Russian Commissars were allegedly taken to a firing range outside the camp and executed.
Defense attorney Captain Emanuel Lewis argued at the Buchenwald trial that "We think the language of the Convention is simple and binding. It binds only those nations who sign it as between themselves. It is not binding as between a signatory and a nation that has refused to join the family of nations."
The argument over whether Germany should have been held to the rules of the Geneva convention with respect to the Russians who had not signed the Convention and were not following it, was never resolved in the Dachau courtroom. Another argument by the prosecution was that the execution of the Russian Commissars was murder because they had not been given a trial.
Hermann Pister, Commandant at Buchenwald, pointed out in his testimony that many of his comrades had been executed by the Allies without a trial. He claimed that Waffen-SS Lt. Gen. Schmidt was summarily executed without a trial because he was considered to be responsible for the horrible conditions found in the Mauthausen concentration camp when it was liberated by American troops, even though he was not in charge of the camp. The Commandant of Mauthausen,Franz Ziereis, did not get a trial; he was shot "while attempting to escape."
The former Dachau concentration camp was a strange choice as the location for the proceedings of the American Military Tribunals against German war criminals, who had allegedly violated the Geneva Convention, because Dachau was the site of the bloody massacre of surrendering Waffen-SS soldiers who had no connection with the concentration camp next door to their garrison.
The Trial of Dr. Hans Eisele
Dr. Hans Eisele stands in the courtroom at Dachau
One of the accused in the Buchenwald case, which was tried before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in 1947, was Dr. Hans Eisele who had previously been convicted in the first Dachau trial which started in November 1945. This was the case against former Dachau Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss and 39 others. Dr. Eisele had been condemned to death in that case, but he still had to answer for crimes that he had allegedly committed in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
SS 2nd Lt. Hans Eisele handled his own defense at the Buchenwald trial
In the photograph above, Dr. Hans Eisele is shown standing behind the defense table as he cross examines a witness, acting as his own defense attorney.
According to Joshua M. Greene, author of "Justice at Dachau," Dr. Hans Eisele was a Waffen-SS officer who had been assigned to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp after he was wounded at the front. At Sachsenhausen, he was known as "the Angel" and the former prisoners gave him a good report. He was later transferred to Dachau where his treatment of the prisoners changed, according to Lt. Col. William D. Denson, who prosecuted Dr. Eisele twice, once for crimes at Dachau and then a second time for crimes committed at Buchenwald.
According to Harold Marcuse, author of "Legacies of Dachau," Dr. Eisele had served as an SS camp doctor successively at Natzweiler, Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Dachau from August 1941 until the liberation of Dachau in April 1945. He was first brought before an American Military Tribunal as one of the 40 accused war criminals who were staff members at Dachau. He was sentenced to death for participating in the "common plan" to commit war crimes at Dachau, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison because he had only been at Dachau for 2 and 1/2 months and he had not been personally accused of any mistreatment of the Dachau prisoners. At Buchenwald, which was a Class II camp for hard-core Communist political prisoners, Dr. Eisele became known as "the Butcher" for his alleged mistreatment of the prisoners.
In the Buchenwald case, Dr. Eisele was convicted of murdering prisoners by injection and of doing improper surgery. He was sentenced to death again for his crimes at Buchenwald.
Dr. Hans Eisele
On June 28, 1948, a new War Crimes Board of Review reduced Dr. Eisele's Buchenwald death sentence to life in prison. In August 1948, another commission recommended that his Buchenwald sentence be reduced to 10 years in prison, but his life sentence was confirmed in December 1948.
Harold Marcuse wrote the following regarding Dr. Eisele:
Two years later in October 1950, another commission recommended remitting the Dachau sentence entirely, and reducing the Buchenwald sentence to ten years with ten days off for each month of good conduct. The recommendation was approved and, and on 19 February 1952, Eisele was released from Landsberg. As far as the new West German government was concerned, Eisele had been captured and imprisoned by the enemy, so that he was eligible for compensation payment (Heimkehrerentschädigung).
Eisele used his government award to open a licensed family practice in Munich, where he lived untroubled by his past until 1958, when testimony in the trial of a sadistic Buchenwald guard before a West German court heavily incriminated him. Warned by sympathetic officials that he would be arrested, he personally dropped off a letter to the editor of the Munich Evening News, in which he defended his reputation, and boarded an airplane to Egypt, where he was employed within a network of former Nazis in an army hospital.
The "sadistic Buchenwald guard," referred to above, was Martin Sommer who was in charge of the bunker or camp prison. He was indicted by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen in 1943 at the same time that Commandant Koch and his wife Ilse were put on trial. Dr. Morgen was an SS judge who was assigned by Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to investigate charges of cruelty and corruption at the concentration camps. After his trial in Dr. Morgen's court, Sommer was transferred to the Russian front where he was wounded in action. The West German court delayed bringing Sommer to trial until 1958 because he was a paraplegic as a result of his war wounds. Sommer was convicted by the West German court of the murder of 25 Buchenwald prisoners by injection and was sentenced to life in prison. Sommer is famous as the innovator of the hanging punishment in which prisoners were hung by their arms from a tree. This punishment was discontinued in 1942 by order of Heinrich Himmler.
Dr. Eisele died in Egypt in 1967 at the age of 55. His release from prison was a great disappointment to Lt. Col. William D. Denson, the prosecutor who had twice won his case, resulting in two death penalties for Eisele. According to his biographer, Joshau M. Greene, Denson often spoke of Dr. Eisele in his lectures to law students in America. Denson was still convinced that Eisele was guilty and that his crimes became worse and worse as he became more cruel in each new camp where he worked. Although he had started out as a decent man before the war, Dr. Eisele had become cruel because cruelty was commonplace in the camps, according to Denson.
Dachau Trials Sentences of war criminals from Buchenwald camp
Dachau Trials US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont There were no closing remarks in the trial of 31 accused war criminals in the Buchenwald case. Testimony in the Buchenwald case ended on August 11, 1947 and both the prosecution and the defense waived their right to make a closing statement.
All 31 of the accused in the Buchenwald case were convicted. This was no surprise because in the three previous trials of concentration camp staff members, the conviction rate had been 100%. Although the prosecutor had asked for the death penalty for each of the accused in the Buchenwald case, only 22 of the 31 were sentenced to be hanged.
The camp Commandant, Hermann Pister, was found guilty of participating in the "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War because Soviet Communist Commissars had been executed at Buchenwald on the orders of Adolf Hitler while he was the Commandant. Although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and were not following its rules, the Tribunal ruled that the Germans, down to the last man, were responsible for treating the Russians according to the rules of the Convention.
Josef Kestal, a prisoner in the camp who is shown in the photo below, was sentenced to death for his part in the executions.
Josef Kestel points out where prisoners were executed at Buchenwald
Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont, an SS general and a member of German royalty, was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War. He was sent to Landsberg am Lech prison near Munich, but was released in 1950 for reasons of ill health.
The prison at Landsberg am Lech, called War Crimes Prison No. 1 by the Allies, is shown in the photo below.
Prison at Landsberg am Lech
Hubert Krautwurst, who is shown in the photo below, was one of the 22 who were given the death penalty; he had been only seventeen when he became a member of the concentration camp staff. He was convicted of killing prisoners who were working on a gardening detail.
Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen
Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen on the witness stand, August 5, 1947
Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen, shown in the photograph above, commanded a great deal of attention in the courtroom because he was a former American citizen, 65 years old, very arrogant and able to hold his own against the American prosecutor, as he testified in a deep baritone voice. A prisoner at Buchenwald, he had originally been on the prosecution witness list, and had helped with interrogations of other prisoners; then he wound up among the accused.
Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen, who had degrees in both medicine and psychology, had cleverly asked to be sentenced to death, knowing that the Tribunal would deny him his last wish; he was given life in prison instead.
Dr. Walter Wendt
Dr. Walter Wendt, shown in the photo above, was a medical doctor and a prisoner in the camp; he was a Kapo (Captain) in charge of other prisoners.
Arthur Dietzsch, shown in the photo above, was a prisoner who was the chief Kapo of Block 46, where medical experiments to find a vaccine for typhus were done. At the trial, he made a statement in which he claimed that he was an active opponent of the Nazi regime; he claimed that he had never harmed anyone, but had saved the lives of many prisoners at the risk of his own life.
Here is the list of the accused and their sentences:
Hermann Pister - Death Sentence - Died in prison Sept. 28, 1948
Hans Merbach - Death Sentence - Executed January 14, 1949
Dr. Hans Eisele - Death Sentence - Pardoned in 1952
Hermann Helbig - Death Sentence - Executed November 19, 1948
Hans Wolf - Death Sentence - Executed November 19, 1948
Hubert Krautwurst - Death Sentence - Executed November 26, 1948
Emil Pleissner - Death Sentence - Executed November 26, 1948
Max Schobert - Death Sentence - Executed November 19, 1948
Hermann Grossmann - Death Sentence - Executed November 19, 1948
Friedrich Wilhelm - Death Sentence - Executed November 26, 1948
Richard Köhler - Death Sentence - Executed November 26, 1948
Josef Kestel - Death Sentence - Executed November 19, 1948
Hans - Theodor Schmidt - Death Sentence - Executed June 7, 1951
Gustav Heigel - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Helmut Roscher - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Phillip Grimm - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Albert Schwartz - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Hermann Hackmann - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Quido Reimer - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Anton Bergmeier - Death Sentence - Commuted to Life
Otto Barnewald - Death Sentence Commuted to Life
Peter Merker - Death Sentence - Commuted to 20 Years
Franz Zinecker - Life in prison
Werner Greunuss - Life in prison - Commuted to 20 Years
Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont - Life in prison - Commuted to 20 Years
Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen - Life in prison - Commuted to 15 Years
Ilse Koch - Life in prison - Commuted to 4 Years
Arthur Dietzsch - 15 Years in prison
Wolfgang Otto - 15 Years in prison
Dr. Walter Wendt - 15 Years in prison - Commuted to 5 Years
August Bender - 10 Years in prison - Commuted to 3 Years
Dachau Trials US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont
The Trial of Hermann Pister - Commandant of Buchenwald
Beginning on April 11, 1947, thirty-one accused war criminals from the Buchenwald concentration camp were brought before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau. The most important person, among these accused war criminals, was the last Commandant of the camp, Hermann Pister.
The charge against Hermann Pister was that he had participated in a "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of war against the Hague Convention of 1907 and the third Geneva Convention, written in 1929, which pertained to the rights of Prisoners of War.
On the witness stand, prosecutor Lt. Col. William Denson confronted Pister with his crime of violating The Hague Convention: "You knew that according to The Hague Convention, an occupying power must respect the rights and lives and religious convictions of persons living in the occupied zone, did you not?" Many of the prisoners at Buchenwald were Resistance fighters from the German-occupied countries in Europe who were fighting as illegal combatants in violation of the Geneva Convention.
To this question, Commandant Pister replied: "First of all, I did not know The Hague Convention. Furthermore, I did not bring these people to Buchenwald."
Tech Sgt. Adrian Robinson at Buchenwald trial, May 9, 1947
In the photograph above, Technical Sergeant Adrian Robertson, a photographer with the US Army Air Corps, identifies a photograph taken at the liberation of the Buchenwald camp. Standing on his left is Chief prosecutor Lt. Col. William D. Denson, and behind him is defense attorney Dr. Richard Wacker. Herbert Rosenstock is the court interpreter who is sitting on the right.
The basis for charging the staff members of the Nazi concentration camps as war criminals for violating the Geneva Convention of 1929 was that the prisoners in the camps were detainees who should have been given the same rights as Prisoners of War because, in the eyes of the victorious Allies, they were the equivalent of POWs. The Geneva Convention of 1949 now gives detainees the same rights as POWs.
Before he took the stand to testify on his own behalf, Pister's defense attorney, Dr. Richard Wacker, told the court:
The defense will prove that the accused Pister was responsible neither for the existence of Buchenwald nor the orders he received there, and is therefore not guilty. The defense will give the accused Pister an opportunity to express his point of view and show for what reasons he did not look upon those orders as criminal, but carried them out, believing in good faith in their legality.
The defense that the accused was acting under "superior orders" was not allowed in the American Military Tribunals. Hermann Pister was a war criminal because he had not stopped executions that had been ordered by Adolf Hitler himself.
Under direct examination by his defense attorney, Pister testified that he was 62 years old, married and had three children, aged 22, 18 and 4 years old. He said that his wife was a prisoner in a camp at Landau in the French zone of occupation and he did not know why she had been sent there. All the wives and many of the children of the German war criminals were imprisoned in internment camps where they occupied the barracks formerly inhabited by prisoners of the Nazis. Their homes had been confiscated and were being occupied by former Jewish prisoners or by the American military.
Pister testified that he had served in the Imperial Navy in World War I, starting at the age of 16. In World War II, he was a member of the Allgemeine SS and the Waffen-SS; in 1939 he was put in charge of a "labor education camp," which he said was not a concentration camp. In December 1941, Pister said that he was appointed the Commandant of Buchenwald by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
In his direct testimony, Pister spoke of the "great number of criminal elements" at Buchenwald, which he said included "habitual drunkards and vagrants" as well as "professional criminals" and Jehovah's Witnesses who were imprisoned "not for their religious convictions, but for their Communist tendencies."
In reply to his defense attorney's question "what authority did you as commandant have concerning punishment?" Pister answered:
Corporal punishment was laid down by law. For such a request, three forms in different colors were sent to office group D in Berlin, and two copies returned after approval or disapproval. At the time I took my job, there were at least fifty applications that had not been processed. I had these destroyed. Furthermore, I frequently changed applications to lighter punishment.
When asked by his defense attorney to explain to the court why he did not stop the abuses at Buchenwald, Pister replied:
First, you must understand that when I came in I found mechanics doing appendectomies and other such conditions, and there wasn't anybody who had tried to change any of this. Second, on my arrival it was not possible to instantly determine what all the abuses were in such a big camp. Gradually I stopped what I could personally take responsibility for, by repeated urging. To my knowledge no mistreatments took place as long as I was in charge, and there was no need for me to issue any reminders.
In his testimony, as quoted by Joshua M. Greene in his book "Justice at Dachau," Pister painted a rosy picture of life at Buchenwald when he took over as Commandant in 1942:
I was surprised by the good installations in the camp. There was a bed for every prisoner, covered with a sheet and two woolen blankets. The capacity was, under normal circumstances, about fifteen thousand. At that time there were eight thousand. Each house consisted of two bedrooms, two dormitories, two dayrooms, and toilets. There was a huge sewer system, an excellent steam kitchen which could prepare food for ten thousand at a time, a cold storage room underneath the kitchen in which five million pounds of potatoes could be stored, a modern laundry, electrical pressing equipment, and a large clothing warehouse where the prisoners' clothing and valuables were hung up in a sack with a number on it. The prisoner hospital had two large operating rooms, a TB station, X-ray stations and heated bath. There was a barber in each block and cleanliness was excellent. Seeing such facilities, I believed I could create the same results as I had achieved on a smaller scale at the labor education camp.
Pister emphasized in his testimony that he did not mistreat the prisoners, as had the former Commandant Karl Otto Koch, who was executed by the Nazis for ordering the death of two prisoners. Pister testified as follows:
I immediately issued an order that mistreatment would be punished most severely. I referred to an order issued personally by the Führer (Adolf Hitler) that read "I am the one who decides about the life or death of a prisoner or also my representative appointed by myself." Of course, I couldn't do away with all mistreatments overnight, but witnesses can testify that any mistreatment of which I heard was punished by me immediately.
Emaciated prisoners at Buchenwald
When asked about the evacuation of the Buchenwald camp just prior to its liberation by American troops on April 11, 1945, Pister said:
At first, there was to be no evacuation. Everyone both inside and around the camp area had expressed their fear of rioting. My suggestion therefore was to personally hand Buchenwald over to the enemy and that was a comfort to all involved. But I couldn't keep my intentions. On the sixth of April, a telephone call came form the commander of the security police with the message "The Reichsführer SS has ordered the Higher SS and Police Leader to reduce camp Buchenwald to the minimum." I immediately contacted the railroad department and told them that approximately thirty thousand inmates had to be transported from Buchenwald to Flossenbürg or Dachau. I was personally acquainted with the president of the railroad administration, and he told me he would do everything in his power to get empty railroad cars to Buchenwald. But since no definite time cold be given, I had the first transport leave on foot on the morning of the seventh. I have to stress that men on this transport had been picked after medical examination and found fit to march.
The men who were marched to the railroad station on April 7th were put on the infamous Death Train that arrived at Dachau on April 27th. Hans Merbach was charged with a war crime because he was the person in charge of this train.
Pister's defense attorney questioned him about the movie that had been shown on the first day of the trial, asking "in what condition did you leave the camp? I mean, is it accurate what was shown in this movie - corpses lying around, things like that?"
In answer to these questions, Hermann Pister testified as follows:
People died daily. On account of the scarcity of coal and oil, cremation was not possible anymore. We buried as many as we could, right up to the day before my departure.
Contrary to Pister's testimony that there was no coal to burn the bodies at Buchenwald, American soldiers who arrived after the camp was liberated told about seeing partially burned bodies in the ovens, as though the cremation process had been interrupted by the liberators.
The photo below, taken on April 24, 1945 when a group of U.S. Congressmen visited Buchenwald, shows a partially burned body in the oven.
Congressman Ed Izac views burned remains in oven, April 24, 1945
Dr. Wacker, the defense attorney, then asked: "How many corpses were left lying around?
No one was left "lying around." That movie was shot ten to twelve days later, so of course a number of corpses had again accumulated. One prisoner here in Dachau told me that the bodies of prisoners who died in the hospital after evacuation were added to the yard of the crematory and after that pictures were taken.
The first photo below, taken on April 16, 1945, five days after Buchenwald was liberated, shows only one pile of bodies outside the crematorium. The second photo below, taken ten or twelve days after the camp was liberated, shows two piles of bodies and two wreaths on the wall. The one pile of bodies in the first photo is not the same pile of bodies in the foreground of the second photo.
One pile of bodies on April 16, 1945
Two piles of bodies at Buchenwald at a later date
The photo below shows dead bodies lying on the ground at Buchenwald when American soldiers arrived on April 12, 1945.
Bodies found by American soldiers at Buchenwald
Lt. Col. Denson, the lead prosecutor at the Buchenwald proceedings confronted Commandant Hermann Pister with orders that he had signed to transport prisoners to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp in what is now Poland.
On cross-examination, Denson asked, "You were acquainted with extermination camps, is that not correct?"
Pister's amazing answer was "No. I didn't even know there were extermination camps."
Denson asked, "You never hear of prisoners whom you sent to Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen tending gardens, did you?" Actually, there was an experimental farm at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where prisoners worked, but Denson apparently didn't know this.
Pister denied that Auschwitz was an extermination camp, saying:
If prisoners were sent there only for extermination, then who would work in the rubber factories and other industries near Auschwitz? Right now in Nürnberg, the I.G. Farben Industry is being charged with having used hundreds of thousands of prisoners for labor in the vicinity of Auschwitz....
Denson cut him off with new questions: "That does not account for the two and one-half million who were sent there, does it?" Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau, had confessed that two and a half million prisoners had been gassed there.
"A good percentage came from Buchenwald, did they not? How many did you send to Auschwitz?"
I can't even give you an approximate figure. Thousands of transports left Buchenwald. But the fact is that from this one transport that was discussed so much here, six men have sat on this witness chair - Jews all of them - and every single one testified under oath that he was sent to Auschwitz for extermination.
The transport that Pister was referring to was a train load of starving and emaciated prisoners who had arrived unexpectedly at Buchenwald from the Gross Rosen concentration camp after being in transit for 9 days in January 1945; these prisoners had been previously evacuated from Auschwitz. Pister had testified earlier that, out of 800 prisoners on the train, only 300 were still alive 3 weeks later "in spite of hot baths and medical treatment."
In his testimony, Pister denied that Jews had been sent on "death transports," saying that he "knew as little about so-called death transports as I did about so-called extermination camps." He said that prisoners who were not fit for work were transferred to Bergen-Belsen; he then made the following startling statement: "I state here, under oath, that Bergen-Belsen was never known as an extermination camp. Neither was Auschwitz." He pointed out that "from one such so-called extermination transport so far five Jews have taken the witness chair in this courtroom." He also pointed out that, in 1945, one transport of prisoners unfit for work could not be sent to Bergen-Belsen because that camp was overcrowded. Pister asked "If Bergen-Belsen was an extermination camp, how could it have been overcrowded?"
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Hermann Pister became so rattled by the questions put to him by Lt. Col. Denson that he finally confessed on the witness stand, in answer to a question about whether he was responsible for extending the railroad line from Buchenwald to the city of Weimar, that he was "responsible for everything." His defense attorney, Dr. Wacker then asked that the proceedings be stopped because Herr Pister's ill health was preventing him from paying attention to the questions. Pister had been complaining about dizziness since the trial began.
Before he lost it, and inadvertently confessed to everything, Pister had denied all responsibility, blaming everything on the big shots who were on trial at Nuremberg. He denied knowing anything about the hooks on the wall in the morgue where prisoners were allegedly strangled to death. The recent photograph below shows the hooks near the ceiling in the morgue.
Prisoners at Buchenwald were allegedly strangled on hooks
In spite of his blatant denials that no one was mistreated, beaten, tortured or killed at Buchenwald on his orders or with his consent, Hermann Pister was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Pister died in prison before his sentence could be carried out.
In its sentence, the tribunal said that Pister was guilty of participating in the "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War because he had been the Commandant in the camp during the time that Russian Communist Commissars were executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler. Such executions were a violation of the Geneva Convention of 1929 which Germany had signed, although the Soviet Union had not.
Although Pister wasn't present when the Commissars were executed, under the Allies' "common plan" concept of co-responsibility, he should have made it his businss to be there, so he could countermand Hitler's orders. The Commandant of Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss, was also convicted as a war criminal by an American Military Tribunal and executed because he had not stopped the medical experiments ordered by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, nor the execution of Soviet Communist Commissars ordered by Adolf Hitler.
Dachau Trials Spanish Kapos
Indalecio Gonzalez was hanged for beating a prisoner to death
The proceedings of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau against the Spanish Kapos at Mauthausen was known as "The United States versus Lauriano Navas, et al." This was a subsidiary of the Mauthausen parent case which was called "The United States versus Hans Altfuldisch, et al."
The verdict in the parent case had included "Special Findings" which declared that "every official, governmental, military and civil, and every employee thereof, whether he be a member of the Waffen SS, Allgemeine SS, a guard, or civilian, to be culpably and criminally responsible" for anything that happened at Mauthausen or its sub-camps. The "Special Findings" also stated that every person associated with Mauthausen had knowledge of the deaths by "shooting, gassing, hanging, regulated starvation, and other heinous methods of killing, brought about through the deliberate conspiracy and planning of the Reich officials" and was therefore "guilty of a crime against the recognized laws, customs, and practices of civilized nations, and the letter and spirit of the laws and usages of war, and by reason thereof is to be punished." In other words, the accused in all the subsidiary trials of the Mauthausen parent case had already been declared guilty even before the proceedings began.
On May 7, 1945, two days after the Mauthausen Concentration Camp was officially liberated by American soldiers, Lauriano Navas, a Spanish Kapo in the camp, was taken into custody. On May 13, 1945, three more Spanish Kapos were taken into custody. Kapos were concentration camp prisoners who had been assigned to supervise the other prisoners, and some of them were even more cruel than the SS guards, according to the witnesses who testified against them. The Spanish prisoners at Mauthausen, known as the "Spanish Republicans," were former soldiers who had fought to defend the Spanish Republic against General Francisco Franco's Falangists (Fascists) in the Spanish Civil War which began in 1936 and ended in 1939.
After Franco's victory, the soldiers of the Spanish Republic escaped to France, where they were interned as detainees in camps run by the French government. Navas was released after he agreed to join the French Army. When France was defeated by the Germans in 1940, the Spanish Republicans were brought to Mauthausen, where they were not treated as Prisoners of War under the rules of the Geneva convention, but as a special category of political prisoners because they were thought to be Communists or anarchists, and therefore enemies of Nazi Germany.
The American prosecutor, William G. Miller, based his case on the fact that the Spanish Kapos were included in the "Special Findings" of the parent Mauthausen case, so their guilt had already been established. The testimony of the paid prosecution witnesses was not actually necessary to convict the accused, and the testimony of the defense witnesses had no credibility since these witnesses were war criminals themselves, according to the Special Findings.
The attorney for the defense was Major Louis F. Benson, assisted by Harry W. Ebert. The head of the panel of judges was Colonel Russell R. Louden. Other members of the judge and jury panel were Colonel Victor Wales, Colonel John H. Keating, Colonel Harry P. Gantt, and Lt. Colonel Harry P. Holz. The law member of the panel was Colonel Gordon O. Berg. One of the court reporters, Eve Hawkins, who spoke a little Spanish, served as the translator, although she protested that her knowledge of the Spanish language was not good enough for a life and death matter.
Witnesses for the prosecution were professional witnesses who were paid; they were housed in the barracks of the former Dachau concentration camp so that they could be available as witnesses in many of the other proceedings at Dachau. According to Joseph Halow, a court reporter at several of the Dachau proceedings, who wrote a book entitled "Innocent at Dachau," the professional witnesses in the Spanish Kapo case "caused the prosecutor various embarrassments. He was often forced to remind these witnesses of important details from their pretrial statements, including beatings and killings, which they seemed, bewilderingly enough for uninitiated observers, to have entirely forgotten on the stand. Their testimonies included inconsistencies of a wildness to embarrass all but the most gullible of bigoted hearers." Halow wrote the following regarding the witnesses at the trial of the Spanish Kapos:
"Predominantly Eastern European Jews, their stock testimony, repeated in trial after trial, was that the accused had been known to beat inmates, that they had witnessed one or more such beatings, and that they had seen the accused beat the inmates so severely they died."
The men on trial were referred to as the "accused," rather than the "defendants" because they were considered to be guilty and the burden of proof was on them, not on the prosecution. The rules of the American justice system did not apply here. Prior to the proceedings of the military tribunal, the accused war criminals were interrogated to obtain confessions. One of the accused in the Spanish Kapos case, Moises Fernandez, testified on the witness stand that he had been beaten by his American interrogators in an effort to force him to confess to killing two men. He named the man who beat him the most severely as Stanislaus Feldman, who had also served as an interpreter on the first day of the proceedings. This accusation was not unique; many of the men on trial at Dachau claimed that they had been beaten by their Jewish interrogators. (See the statement of Gustav Petrat)
One of the accused in the proceedings against the Spanish Kapos was Indalecio Gonzalez, an Oberkapo at the Gusen sub-camp who was nicknamed "Astoria." He was from Asturias in Spain, which was the origin of the name given to him by the other inmates. Jean Loureau, a French army lieutenant, testified that Gonzalez had, together with other Kapos, beaten a prisoner to death because he had tried to escape work by hiding in a hole in the ground.
The sentences were read by Colonel Louden, the court president.
Felix Domingo was sentenced to a term of two years in prison at hard labor. Domingo was then released because he had already been in prison for two years by the time he was sentenced. His lighter sentence may have been because he was able to show that he had actually been a barber in the camp, not a Kapo.
Moises Fernandez was sentenced to twenty years in prison at hard labor and Indalecio Gonzalez was sentenced to death by hanging. Lauriano Navas was sentenced to life in prison.
Every case that was tried at Dachau was subsequently reviewed before the sentence was carried out. The review officer in the case of the Spanish Kapos was Captain Irma V. Nunes of the US Army, who was, ironically, of Spanish ethnicity herself. She may have had sympathy for the Spanish prisoners, but she had to follow the orders of her superiors. In her "Review and Recommendations" report, signed on 14 January 1948, Nunes followed the guidelines established in the Special Findings of the court in the main Mauthausen proceeding, which declared that anyone associated with the Mauthausen camp in any way was automatically guilty. In her report, Captain Nunes stated that
"The Court was required to take cognizance of the decision rendered in the Parent Case, including the findings of the Court therein that the mass atrocity operation was criminal in nature and that the participants therein, acting in pursuance of a common design, subjected persons to killings, beatings, tortures, etc., and was warranted in inferring that those shown to have participated knew of the criminal nature thereof. (Letter, Headquarters, United States Forces, European Theater, file AG 000.5 JAG-AGO, subject: 'Trial of War Crimes Cases,' 14 October 1946, and the Parent Case).
According to Joseph Halow, Nunes's "review statement of the case is full of such disgraceful errors, indicating an almost complete lack of consideration of the trial files, if she even read them." In her review statement, Captain Nunes had referred to one witness in the case as two separate individuals, according to Halow. Captain Nunes had found, in her review of the Domingo case, that the finding of guilty was not warranted by the evidence. Under the heading of Sufficiency of Evidence, Captain Nunes wrote that "The evidence does not satisfactorily establish that the accused [Domingo] gave encouragement to the common design or participated therein."
Nevertheless, Captain Nunes upheld Domingo's sentence of two years in prison because he was automatically guilty under the "Special Findings" in the parent case, which held that everyone who was associated with Mauthausen in any way, even a prisoner who was the camp barber, was guilty of any and all atrocities committed at Mauthausen, including the gassing of prisoners.
The review of the case of United States versus Lauriano Navas was completed on January 14, 1948 when the Deputy Judge Advocate's Office, 7708th War Crimes Group, issued its report. On September 23, 1948, the court reporter, Eve Hawkins, who had served as a translator in the case, wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in which she agreed with a letter written by Col. William Denson, the prosecutor in the Ilse Koch case. Col. Denson had expressed shock that Koch's sentence had been reduced to time served, after she had been accused of the most heinous crime imaginable. General Lucius D. Clay had reduced Koch's sentence, after reviewing her case, because he was of the opinion that the charges of making lamp shades from human skin had not been proved in court. Col. Denson and Eve Hawkins were both outraged at this miscarriage of justice.
In her letter, Hawkins mentioned that she had been an interpreter in the case against the Spanish Kapos and that she "was drafted into the job of interpreter over strong objections that she was not qualified to interpret in court for men on trial for their lives." Her letter caused quite a stir when it was read by JAG officers in Washington, D.C. By this time, the Dachau trials were the subject of controversy amid accusations by many of the men on trial that they had been beaten and tortured by their Jewish interrogators to get them to confess.
Joseph Halow wrote in his book "Innocent at Dachau" that "The public doubt that had been cast on the Army's judgment by an American participant in the trials had made its leadership react strongly. From then on they could never have admitted their judgment might be wrong." The review board upheld the death sentence of Gonzales.
Meanwhile Lauriano Navas had retained a German civilian lawyer, Otto Kranzbuehler, to plead his case during the review process. Kranzbuehler wrote a letter to the War Crimes Group in which he argued that the American military lacked jurisdiction in the case of Navas because he was a lieutenant in the French Army. As a member of the Allied armed forces, he could not be tried by the Allies as a war criminal. Kranzbuehler pointed out that there was only one witness that had testified against Navas, a Polish prisoner named Nakladezuk. Nakladezuk had offered hearsay testimony that a doctor at Mauthausen had told him that a prisoner who was beaten by Navas had died. (Hearsay testimony was allowed by the Military Tribunal.) Kranzbuehler refuted this testimony on the grounds that no one was permitted to enter the dispensary without special authorization, and that the victim was a man whose name Nakladezuk did not know, so how could the doctor have known which prisoner Nakladezuk had witnessed being beaten the week before.
The judges in the Navas case were required to take the Special Findings into consideration in their decision. Kranzbuehler was able to successfully argue that Navas was not covered under the Special Findings because he was a Lieutenant in the French Army and thus not within the class of persons presumed to be guilty by mere presence at the camp. As an officer in the French army, Navas could not have been part of the common plan of Nazi conspiracy to commit war crimes, even if he had, in fact, beaten a prisoner to death. In a similar case brought before the Military Tribunal at Dachau, Marcel Boltz, one of the accused in the Malmedy Massacre case, was released before the proceedings began because he was a French citizen, born in Alsace before that province was annexed into Greater Germany after the French were defeated in 1940. He had been arrested and charged with killing American POWs at Malmedy, but because he was a French citizen, he could not be accused of a war crime, even if he had, in fact, killed American POWs.
On April 18, 1951 the Army report on the review of the Navas case included the following statement:
We thus find that we have an accused who has been sentenced to life imprisonment on the testimony of one witness, whose testimony, though strong in reference to an actual incident of beating, appears shaky as to the actual identity of the person doing the beating.
Navas' sentence was reduced to time served and he was released in 1951. He had spent more than 10 years in prison and 6 years of that time, he was a prisoner of the Allies, on whose side he had fought in the French Army.
Dachau Trials US vs. Franz Kofler, et al
Franz Kofler was executed in Nov. 1948
A subsidiary case in the US Military Tribunal proceedings against the staff members of the Mauthausen concentration camp was known as "The United States versus Franz Kofler, et al." Kofler, shown in the photo above, was from Austria.
There were 8 accused men in this case, including Gustav Petrat who was an ethnic German from Lithuania; Petrat had become a German citizen in 1942. The case began on 6 August 1947 and ended on 21 August 1947.
All of the following information is from the book entitled "Innocent at Dachau," written by Joseph Halow, a court reporter who was assigned to take down the testimony in the Franz Kofler subsidary case.
Gustave Petrat was convicted mainly on the testimony of a beautiful Polish woman named Danuta Drbuszenska, who was 19 years old at the time that she claimed that Petrat beat her in the camp. Petrat was around the same age. According to the court reporter, Joseph Halow, Petrat blushed a deep red and wore a sheepish grin on his face as Danuta testified. Halow wrote that he "guessed immediately that there had been not cruelty, but deep intimacy between the two."
Halow also said that Danuta lived in the barrack which was a brothel for the SS men and some of the prisoners. Major Oates, the defense lawyer for Petrat, asked Danuta on the witness stand if she had had a love affair with Petrat, but she dodged the question and said, "I would kill him if I could." The defense then asked Danuta if she had been trying to kill Petrat at the time that he struck her with an object. She answered that she had been swearing at Petrat at the time because she didn't want to have anything to do with him.
Another witness against Petrat was a 17-year-old Jew named Andor Fried, who accused Petrat of killing stragglers on a march from Mauthausen to the sub-camp of Gunskirchen. Fried claimed to have seen these killings from a distance of one and a half city blocks. Witnesses for the defense said that Petrat would not have been assigned to accompany a march because he could not ride a motorcycle since he had been woulded at the front before he was assigned to Mauthausen.
Petrat was a dog handler who was assigned to guard prisoners outside the Mauthausen camp. Witnesses accused Petrat of allowing his dog to tear peices of flesh out of the inmates. Defense witnesses said that Petrat's dog was not viscious and would not attack.
Petrat made a name for himself when he wrote a detailed account of how he was tortured by the American interrogators. There were many similar accusations against the Jewish interrogators by the other Nazi war criminals who were tried at Dachau.
This subsidiary case was tried after the main trial of the Mauthausen staff members, which was known as "The United States versus Hans Altfuldisch, et al." Besides Kofler and Petrat, the accused in the subsidiary case included four native Germans: Hermann Franz Buetgen, Quirin Flaucher, Arno Albert Reuter and Emil Thielmann. Also on trial were Michael Heller and Stefan Lennert, who were both born in Romania, but were ethnic Germans serving in the SS.
In the parent case, the court had declared "Special Findings" which said that there was enough evidence to convict any staff member in any of the following subsidairy cases without further proof. The court had ruled "...that the mass atrocity operation was criminal in nature and that the participants therein, acting in pursuance of a common design, subjected persons to killings, beatings, torures, etc., and that [the court] was warranted in inferring that those shown to have participated knew of the criminal nature thereof." What this meant was that anyone in the camp, whether Kapo or SS guard, knew of the atrocities in the camp and was therefore guilty of participating in a "common design" by virtue of that knowledge. All that was necessary for the prosecution to prove was that the accused was present in the camp when the atrocities were committed.
Franz Kofler was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The photograph at the top of this page was taken just before his execution. Two prosecution witnesses, Herbert Melching and Peter Bleimueller, testified that Kofler had beaten Jewish prisoenrs and killed them by forcing them into the electrically charged barbed wire fence. Kofler was a Kommando and rollcall leader in the camp. In his defense, Kofler pointed out that he was in charge of Block 5 and none of the 180 Jewish prisoners in that block had accused him of forcing Jews to the wire. The one and only witness who charged him with killing Jewish prisoners was from Block 4, a barrack that he was not responsible for.
Another witness against Kofler was Josef Schwaiger, who had frequently been sent outside the camp to work in the home of Mrs. von Schwertberg, who lived nearby. Schwaiger accused Kofler of beating prisoners during rollcall. Kofler's defense lawyer, Major William A. Oates, accused Schwaiger of trying to get revenge on Kofler because he had stolen Schwaiger's girl friend, Mrs. von Schwertberg.
Hermann Buetgen was sentenced to three years hard labor in prison. His light sentence was due to the fact that the paid witnesses for the prosecution had confused him with Michael Heller, also on trial. Simon Bressler, a paid witness, testified that he had seen Buetgen beat every prisoner in the 800-man detail working in the quarry. Buetgen had not been a guard in the quarry, although Michael Heller was.
Josef Feldstein, another paid witness for the prosecution, who had been a prisoner at Mauthausen from the end of 1942 until May 1945 when the camp was liberated, testified that Buetgen had performed duties in the quarry that were actually the duties assigned to Michael Heller. However, Feldstein claimed that Heller was one of the good guys who always expressed horror at the atrocities committed in the quarry. Feldstein did not know Buetgen's name, identifying him as a guard named "Wittingen." (Wittingen is the name of a city in Germany.) He testified that he had seen "Wittingen" kill about 300 inmates, beating them to death because they carried stones that were too small up the "Stairs of Death." He also claimed that Buetgen had shot other inmates or forced them to touch the electically charged barbed wire.
Another prosecution witness, Jacob Sztejnberg identified Buetgen as a block leader in the camp, a description that would fit Michael Heller, but not Buetgen. He also claimed that Buetgen was a guard in the quarry who had beaten prisoners to death when they carried stones that were too small.
Another prosecution witness, Wilhelm Mornstein, testified that he had witnessed atrocities committed by Emil Thielmann but Michael Heller was "the opposite of Thielmann." In spite of all these discrepancies in testimony of the prosecution witnesses, Michael Heller was sentenced to death by hanging.
Arno Albert Reuter was sentenced to two years at hard labor. The testimony against Reuter, that he had beaten prisoners, was weak and this resulted in a lighter sentence for him.
Sztejnberg was also a prosecution witness against Quirin Flaucher, whom he identified as "Laucher." His testimony against Flaucher was vague and when the prosecutor, Lundberg, asked him a question, Sztejnberg made caustic comments, resulting in the court president calling him before the judges to instruct him to make "no more smart remarks."
Jean Loureau, a French prisoner, testified that Flaucher was a homosexual who used young boys in the camp "as women." Herbert Wisniewski, a young Polish Jew, testified that after the Warsaw uprising in 1944, a large number of 14 and 15-year-old boys were brought to Mauthausen. He testified that Flaucher would beat these boys if they refused to sleep with him. Flaucher was a convicted German criminal who was a Kapo in the camp, assigned to be in charge of Block 8 at Mauthausen. Wisniewski fainted on the witness stand during his testimony and refused to return to the court to be cross-examined. This did not matter since witnesses did not have to available for cross-examination, according to the rules of the tribunal.
Stefan Lennert was aquitted of the charge of participating in the common design to commit atrocities at Mauthausen because he was able to prove that he was at home on furlough in Romania, not in the camp, when the atrocities were committed. All the others were found guilty because the prosecution proved that they were in the camp at the time that atrocities, presented in the parent case, were committed.
Catholic Priests in the Dachau Concentration Camp
Dachau became the camp where 2,720 clergymen were sent, including 2,579 Catholic Priests. The priests at Dachau were separated from the other prisoners and housed together in several barrack buildings in the rear of the camp. There were 1,780 Polish priests and 447 German priests at Dachau. Of the 1,034 priests who died in the camp, 868 were Polish and 94 were German. Source: "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?" by Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler.
Other clergymen at Dachau included 109 Protestant ministers, 22 Greek Orthodox, 2 Muslims and 8 men who were classified as "Old Catholic and Mariaists."
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, an auxiliary Bishop from Munich, was one of the 8 clergymen at Dachau who had a private cell in the bunker, the camp prison building. He was free to leave his cell and walk around the camp. He could also receive visitors from outside the camp. The worst thing that happened to Dr. Neuhäusler at Dachau was that he was once punished by being confined indoors in the bunker for a week. He was punished for secretly hearing the confession of a former Italian minister who had just arrived at the bunker the day before. Dr. Neuhäusler wrote in his book entitled "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?" that he had been betrayed by a Bible inquirer (Jehovah's Witness) who worked as the Hausl (housekeeper) in the bunker.
Dr. Neuhäusler did not mention any ill treatment at Dachau but he did write about how he was beaten when he was initially sent to the Sachsenhausen camp.
The following quote is from page 41 of Dr. Neuhäusler's book:
Even on entering the camp abusive language and shouts of derision were to be heard. "Welcome to Dachau," called a member of the SS mockingly to me as I was committed. Very often it meant the first boxes on the ears. This I had also experienced in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, when I was chased along, up and down, to the other "entrance" and received such a kick from one of the SS-men that I fell to the ground and cut my hands, or while being photographed I was struck in the face with closed fists until I was almost ready to collapse.
Prison cells in the Dachau bunker
The most famous of the Protestant ministers was the Reverend Martin Niemöller, who also had a private cell in the bunker, which is shown in the photo above.
In his book, Dr. Neuhäusler wrote that, out of the 2720 clergymen imprisoned at Dachau, 314 were released, 1034 died in the camp, 132 were transferred to another camp, and 1240 were still in the camp when it was liberated on April 29, 1945.
According to Dr. Neuhäusler's book, the largest number of Catholic priests at Dachau were the 1780 priests from Poland. The largest number of deaths of priests at Dachau was 868 from Poland. There were 830 Polish priests at Dachau when the camp was liberated and 78 had already been released.
The highest number of priests that were released from Dachau was the 208 German priests. Out of the 447 German priests at Dachau, 100 were transferred to other camps and 94 died in the camp; there were only 45 German priests at Dachau when the camp was liberated.
The first clergymen to arrive at Dachau were Polish priests who were sent there in 1939. The Polish priests were arrested for helping the Polish Resistance after Poland had been conquered in only 28 days.
Bishop Franciszek Korczynski from Wloclawek, Poland published a book in 1957, entitled "Jasne promienie w Dachau" (Bright Beams in Dachau) in which he claimed that the extermination of the Polish clergy was planned by the Nazis as part of the liquidation of the Polish intelligentsia. He wrote that the priests at Dachau were starved and tortured and that the Nazis used the priests for medical experiments.
Among the priests at Dachau, one of the first Polish prisoners was Archbishop Kozlowiecki who had been arrested on November 10, 1939 in Krakow. According to a speech which he gave when the Catholic Memorial at Dachau was dedicated in 1960, the Archbishop was held in prison for the next five and a half years: three months in Montelupi prison in Krakow, five months in Wisnicz concentration camp in Poland, six months in Auschwitz and four years and four months at Dachau.
In his speech, Archbishop Kozlowiecki said that the Gestapo never gave him a reason for his arrest. As quoted in the book "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?" Archbishop Kozlowiecki said that a watchman once gave him a reason: "Because you have an ideology which we do not like."
Although Archbishop Kozlowiecki did not mention, in his speech, any atrocities that he had endured at Dachau, he did say "For years every dark morning we got up with this horrible feeling of agony and absolute helplessness; it was with a heavy and trembling heart that we went to the morning inspection and to our work."
Theodore Koch, a Polish priest who was a Dachau prisoner from October 1941 to April 1945, testified at the American Military Tribunal proceedings against the Dachau staff that the prisoners had to do exercises as punishment. According to Koch, the prisoners had to jump, do knee-bends, and other gymnastics, including running on their knees. Koch testified that from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday, the priests had to go through exercises on the roll call place from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. except for a break for dinner. Koch claimed that many priests died during and after these exercises.
The first German priest to enter Dachau in 1940 was Father Franz Seitz, according to Dr. Neuhäusler. The first priests were put into Block 26, but it soon became over crowded because "practically all the priests interned in the camp at Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg were transferred to Dachau, especially many hundreds of Polish clergymen," according to Dr. Neuhäusler.
Dr. Neuhäusler wrote that an emergency chapel was set up in Block 26 and on January 20, 1941 the first Mass was celebrated. "Some 200 priests stood enraptured before the altar while one of their comrades, wearing white vestments offered up the Holy Sacrifice."
In 1940, the German bishops and the Pope had persuaded Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to concentrate all the priests imprisoned in the various concentration camps into one camp, and to house them all together in separate blocks with a chapel where they could say Mass.
In early December 1940, the priests already in Dachau were put into Barracks Block 26 near the end of the camp street. Within two weeks, they were joined by around 800 to 900 priests from Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and other camps, who were put into Blocks 28 and 30. Block 30 was later converted into an infirmary barrack.
At first, the priests at Dachau were given special privileges such as a ration of wine, a loaf of bread for four men, and individual bunk beds. The priests were not required to work and they were allowed to celebrate Mass.
In October 1941, these privileges were taken away. Only the German priests were now allowed to say Mass. All non-German clergymen, including Poles, Dutchmen, Luxembourgers and Belgians, were removed from Block 26 and sent to Block 28. A wire fence was placed around Block 28 and a sentry stood guard. The non-German priests were now forced to work, just like the rest of the prisoners. Allegedly, this change happened because the Pope had made a speech on the radio in which he condemned the Nazis, and the German bishops had made a public protest about the treatment of the priests.
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler wrote the following in his book entitled "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?":
To prevent the non-German priests from even looking into the chapel from their nearby block, a thick white paint was spread over the chapel windows. The commanding officer of Block 28 forbade the prisoners all practice of religion and threatened severe penalties for any breach of rule. The prisoners were forced to give up all breviaries, rosaries, etc.
During the time that the Polish priests were not allowed to say Mass, they asked the priest from Block 26, who was in charge of the chapel, to give them hosts and wine so they could celebrate Mass in secret, according to Dr. Neuhäusler. The Polish priests who worked on the plantation (farm) at Dachau would kneel on the ground and pretend to be weeding. They had a small portable altar which one of the priests would press into the ground. The priests would knell down and receive Communion from their own hands.
On Christmas Eve in 1941, after 322 days without Mass, Dr. Neuhäusler was allowed to say Mass in a temporary Chapel in one of the cells of the bunker where he was a prisoner. He had received everything necessary for the mass from Cardinal Dr. Michael Faulhaber in Munich, who sent regular packages to Dachau right up to the day the camp was liberated.
Altar in the bunker at Dachau
Among the Polish survivors of Dachau were Bishop Ignacy Jez of Koszalin and Archbishop Kazimierz Majdanski.
One of the German Catholic priests who survived Dachau was Father Hermann Scheipers who was still alive in October 2009 at the age of 96. In an interview with Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News, Father Scheipers said, regarding Dachau: "So this is what I saw in front of my eyes, that people were gassed in the gas chambers."
After an interview with Father Scheipers in October 2009, Greg Hayes of the Sun Gazette wrote the following:
Scheipers described the horrors of working and living among the sickness, torture, horrific experiments and death that inundated Dachau.
The priest delivered the story of how his life was saved by his sister Anna and how her courage not only rescued Scheipers but about 500 other priests who were lined up to go, or would have later been sent, to the gas chambers.
Scheipers said his "death certificate" was signed when he was feeling faint during a role (sic) call session one morning in 1942, because he had become "completely exhausted from all the work" in the camp, not because he was sick.
When Anna got word by making illegal contact with other imprisoned priests from the outside that her brother was sentenced to die, she and her father entered the SS security main office (RSHA in Berlin), and Scheipers' sister insisted the officer guarantee her brother's safety.
It was then that orders were made to spare the lives of the priests.
Among the famous priests at Dachau was Father Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest from Luxembourg who was imprisoned from May 19, 1941 to August 1942 when he was released. Father Bernard wrote a book entitled "Pfarrerblock 25487" which was translated into English in 2007 under the title "Priestblock 25487." The movie "The Ninth Day" by Volker Schlöndorff was based on a 10 day furlough that Father Bernard was given to go home when his mother died.
Ronald J. Rychlak write the following in a review of the book written by Father Bernard:
There was so little food that Fr. Bernard tells of risking the ultimate punishment in order to steal and eat a dandelion from the yard. The prisoners would secretly raid the compost pile, one time relishing discarded bones that had been chewed by the dogs of Nazi officers. Another time the Nazi guards, knowing what the priests intended, urinated on the pile. For some priests, this was not enough to overcome their hunger.
Ronald J. Rychlak also wrote the following about what he read in Father Bernard's book, Priestblock 25487:
Priests at Dachau were not marked for death by being shot or gassed as a group, but over two thousand of them died there from disease, starvation, and general brutality. One year, the Nazis "celebrated" Good Friday by torturing 60 priests. They tied the priests' hands behind their backs, put chains around their wrists, and hoisted them up by the chains. The weight of the priests' bodies twisted and pulled their joints apart. Several of the priests died, and many others were left permanently disabled. The Nazis, of course, threatened to repeat the event if their orders were not carried out.
The account of the torture of the 60 priests in Father Bernard's book was a description of the infamous hanging punishment. The hanging punishment was originated by Martin Sommer, an SS officer at Buchenwald. This punishment was abolished at Dachau by Commandant Martin Weiss in 1942. Sommer was dismissed from his job at Buchenwald and sent to the Eastern front after being put on trial in SS judge Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen's court in 1943 for abuse of the prisoners.
Photo in 1965 Dachau Museum
The photograph above, taken inside the old Dachau Museum in May 2001, shows a fake hanging scene at Buchenwald that was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film. (Source: H. Obenaus, "Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt," in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8)
Martin Sommer, SS officer at Buchenwald
In his Official History of Dachau, Paul Berben wrote the following about how the priests were treated differently than the other prisoners:
On 15th March 1941 the clergy were withdrawn from work Kommandos on orders from Berlin, and their conditions improved. They were supplied with bedding of the kind issued to the S.S., and Russian and Polish prisoners were assigned to look after their quarters. They could get up an hour later than the other prisoners and rest on their beds for two hours in the morning and afternoon. Free from work, they could give themselves to study and to meditation. They were given newspapers and allowed to use the library. Their food was adequate; they sometimes received up to a third of a loaf of bread a day; there was even a period when they were given half a litre of cocoa in the morning and a third of a bottle of wine daily.
Regarding the priests' ration of "a third of a bottle of wine daily," Father Bernard wrote that the priests were forced, under threats of a beating, to uncork the wine and pour a third of the bottle into a cup, then they were forced to drink the wine quickly. He mentions an occasion in which one priest, who choked on the wine, had the cup slammed into his face, cutting through his lips and cheeks to the bone.
The regular prisoners in the camp were never allowed to drink any wine at all.
Nerin E. Gun, a Turkish journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote in his book entitled "The Day of the Americans," published in 1966, that there were 1,240 men of the cloth at Dachau at the time of liberation and 95% of them were Catholic. Gun pointed out that, by 1965, almost every book ever written about Dachau was written by a Catholic priest. According to Gun, the priests lived comfortably in their block and refused to let any other prisoners take refuge there. They did not work; they were not mistreated, and therefore they were able at their leisure to observe everything that went on about them and write fine books.
The Catholic priests were not sent to Dachau just because they were priests. Catholics and Protestants alike were arrested as "enemies of the state" but only if they preached against the Nazi government. An important policy of the Nazi party in Germany was called Gleichschaltung, a term that was coined in 1933 to mean that all German culture, religious practice, politics, and daily life should conform with Nazi ideology. This policy meant total control of thought, belief, and practice and it was used to systematically eradicate all anti-Nazi elements after Hitler came to power.
There were around 20 million Catholics and 20,000 priests in Nazi Germany. The vast majority of the German clergymen and the German people, including the 40 million Protestants, went along with Hitler's ideology and were not persecuted by the Nazis.
There were also many criminals and "asocials" imprisoned at Dachau. Nazi Germany was a paradise for Hitler's followers because these men were off the streets.
The following quote is from Dr. Neuhäusler's book:
Among the comrades were plenty of good-for-nothings with green and black chevrons (badges), lazy fellows, drunkards, even criminals. One man would ridicule the priests, another would tell dirty jokes, another steal bread, soap and other articles from his companions. Among us there were barbarians, unmannerly louts, braggers, gossips, know-alls, brawlers of all sorts.
Some of the clergymen at Dachau had been arrested for helping the Jews. For example, one of the Catholic priests at Dachau was Father Giuseppe Girotti, a Catholic theology professor at the Saint Maria della Rose Dominican Seminary of Turin. After Italy changed sides and joined the Allies in September 1943, Father Girotti saved many Jews by arranging safe hideouts and escape routes for them. He was arrested on August 29, 1944, and deported to Dachau after he was betrayed by an informer; he died at Dachau on April 1, 1945. While in Dachau, Father Girotti worked on his unfinished book, a commentary on the biblical book of Jeremiah.
Other priests who were sent to Dachau had been arrested for child molestation or for a violation of Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuality. The most famous priest at Dachau was Leonard Roth, who had to wear a black triangle because he had been arrested as a pedophile.
Father William J. O'Malley, S.J. wrote the following regarding the priests who were arrested and sent to Dachau because they were actively helping the underground Resistance against the German occupation of Europe:
The 156 French, 63 Dutch, and 46 Belgians were primarily interned for their work in the Underground. If that were a crime, such men as Michel Riquet, S.J., surely had little defense; he was in contact with most of the leaders of the French Resistance and was their chaplain, writing forthright editorials for the underground press, sequestering Jews, POW's, downed Allied airmen, feeding and clothing them, providing them with counterfeit papers and spiriting them into Spain and North Africa.
Henry Zwaans, a Jesuit secondary school teacher in The Hague, was arrested for distributing copies of Bishop Von Galen's homilies and died in Dachau of dropsy and dysentery. Jacques Magnee punished a boy for bringing anti-British propaganda into the Jesuit secondary school at Charleroi in Belgium; Leo DeConinck went to Dachau for instructing the Belgian clergy in retreat conferences to resist the Nazis.
Parish priests were arrested for quoting Pius XI's anti-Nazi encyclical , Mit Brennender Sorge , or for publicly condemning the anti-Semitic film, "The Jew Seuss", or for providing Jews with false baptismal certificates. Some French priests at Dachau disguised themselves as workers to minister to young Frenchmen shanghaied into service in German heavy industry and had been caught doing what they had been ordained to do.
On December 7, 2009, a monument to the late Cardinal Josef Beran, who died in 1969, was unveiled by Prague Archbishop Cardinal Miloslav Vik in Prague, a city in the Czech Republic. Father Josef Beran was one of the priests who was a prisoner at Dachau; he was arrested and sent to Dachau after the assassination of Reinhard von Heydrich, the Deputy Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, on May 27, 1942. Beran was accused of being a member of the Czech Resistance which killed Reinhard von Heydrich.
After the Dachau camp was liberated by American soldiers and the typhus epidemic was brought under control in June 1945, the former concentration camp was turned into a prison for German war criminals. The SS soldiers who were imprisoned at Dachau, to await trial by an American Military Tribunal, built a Catholic church near the Dachau gate house. Father Leonard Roth stayed on in the camp to serve as the priest for the Catholic SS soldiers. The street that runs along the Dachau Memorial Site is named after Father Leonard Roth, who redeemed himself by his service to others.
Father Franz Goldschmitt was sent to Dachau on December 16, 1942 and released in May 1945 after the camp was liberated. Father Goldschmitt wrote a book about his time at Dachau, entitled "Zeugen des Abendlandes" (Western Witnesses). The book is no longer in print, but it is still frequently quoted today.
The following is a quote from page 24 of Zeugen des Abendlandes by Father Franz Goldschmitt:
Inside and outside the prison camp many gardens were laid out. The largest garden bearing the name plantation was a huge square area under cultivation, approximately 550 yards square. It had been wrested from the Dachau marshes at the cost of countless human lives. Paths and drains traversed the fertile ground. The plantation was used chiefly for the cultivation of medicinal plants. Jews and priests, hundreds of whom died, had to cultivate the marshy land from 1940-1943. The plantation was, in the truest sense of the word, fertilized with human sweat and blood. During the good weather, about 1300 prisoners were employed, in winter between four and eight hundred. The latter cared for the seedlings in the greenhouses, the former planted and looked after countless varieties of tea plants. Vegetables for the inmates of the camp were also cultivated, and even flowers were to be seen though they were used mainly for medicinal purposes. The prisoners cared for approximately 12 acres of swordlilies alone, because of their vitamin content.
In spring and summer the fresh green of the plantation, the smiling flowers and the friendly country houses would have presented an inspiring picture, had it not been for the terrible slavery.
Parish priests were yoked to the ploughs and harrows, and six men apathetically dragged the heavy load along. Carrying water in the drought, collecting tea and drying the tea plants in a temperature of 70 degrees centigrade were very laborious occupations.
The photo below, taken in 1938 inside the Dachau camp, shows how the prisoners were forced to work like animals, harnessed to wagons. Priests at Dachau were yoked to plows in the same way, except that six men pulled one plow.
Dachau prisoners in 1938
Father Franz Goldschmitt was a German priest who was allowed to attend, or to say Mass, in Block 26 every morning. Apparently, the German priests were also allowed to make and consume coffee in their barracks before roll call. The following quote is from his book:
We priests were awakened an hour before the other prisoners usually about 3:30 a.m. We assisted at Mass, swallowed coffee and marched in rows of ten silently to the square for roll call.
Father Goldschmitt also wrote about the abuses at roll call. The following quote is from his book:
We stood here in silence until the officer had ascertained that all the prisoners had arrived. If a comrade was missing, which sometimes happened, all had to remain standing until the person concerned was found again. [...] One Sunday we had to stand four full hours in the glaring sun, bareheaded, as the wearing of any type of headdress was forbidden from the beginning of May until September. Many of my comrades collapsed that day. I was an eyewitness when a Polish parish priest, utterly exhausted from the misery of it all, fell dead to the ground. My priest friends told me that shortly before my arrival, a roll-call lasted over seven hours. Twenty corpses had to be carried away afterwards.
Gun wrote in his book "The Day of the Americans" that Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich sent food packages to Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler right up to the time that the prisoners in the "Honor Bunker" were sent to the Tyrol for their own protection before the camp was liberated. Gun pointed out in his book that Hitler was Catholic and that "he paid his religious dues to the German Catholic Church until the day he died." Hitler was never excommunicated by the Pope, according to Gun, and he never apostasized.
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler wrote in his book that, as the Allies began to approach the camp, the food parcels, which the prisoners were accustomed to receive from outside the camp no longer arrived. The priests at Dachau did without their daily ration of camp bread in order to give it to those who could no longer receive parcels.
Because of the fact that they were exempt from work, the priests were chosen as subjects for medical experiments, conducted by Dr. Klaus Schilling, on a cure for malaria. As a result of these experiments, many of the priests died.
Father Theodore Korcz testifies at trial of Dachau camp personnel
In the photograph above, a Catholic priest, Father Theodore Korcz, reads from a record book kept by Dr. Klaus Schilling about the malaria experiments which he conducted on the priests at Dachau while Lt. Col. William Denson, the American prosecutor, looks on.
According to Dr. Neuhäusler, there were also experiments done to test a biochemical remedy on the "purulent inflammation of the membranes" which is called Phlegmone in Germany. Twenty healthy priests were chosen for the experiments. Although some of the victims had to have arms or legs amputated and only 8 of them survived, "No one called the physician to account." Apparently this unnamed physician was never put on trial.
As quoted on this web site, Father William J. O'Malley, a Jesuit priest, wrote the following:
Priests from Dachau worked in the "Plantation" and in the enormous S.S. industrial complex immediately to the west of the camp. In February 1942, two groups of younger Polish priests and scholastics were chosen for work as carpenters' apprentices, but they had actually been chosen (at the express order of Heinrich Himmler) to be injected with pus to study gangrene or to have their body temperature lowered to 27 degrees Centigrade in order to study resuscitation of German fliers downed in the North Atlantic. The Rev. Andreas Reiser, a German, was crowned with barbed wire and a group of Jewish prisoners was forced to hail him as their king, and the Rev. Stanislaus Bednarski, a Pole, was hanged on a cross.
Dr. Neuhäusler wrote in his book "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?" that Father Karl Schmidt had to assist Dr. Sigmund Rascher with his body temperature experiments for the Luftwaffe by taking photographs, but he did not mention that any priests were used for these experiments.
Father O'Malley also told this story about Otto Pies, a priest at Dachau:
The most admirable priest-rogue was a Jesuit former master of novices named Otto Pies. Released from Dachau in the Spring of 1945 as the Americans were advancing, he disguised himself as an S.S. officer and came back to the camp with a truckload of food - rousted God knows where in those bitterly foodless days. He drove into the camp, into the priests' wired-off compound, and then drove off with 30 of the priests hidden in the back. Two days later, when 5,400 prisoners - 88 of them priests - were led off into the Alps to be lost in the snow, Otto Pies came back in the same uniform and truck and picked up more.
In his book, Dr. Neuhäusler quoted from a book by an unnamed author who wrote the following:
In the "standing cell" the clergyman Theissing from Aix-la-chapelle also found himself. He was employed in the sick quarters and during there he had made statistical records about the number of deaths from medical "experiments" (infection of malaria, supperation, etc.) His courageous and kindly fellow prisoner Karls, the director of the Charities, sent these reports regularly to his office in Elberfeld until the smuggling of such documents was unhappily discovered. Karls, who thought that the end had come for him, faced the Gestapo investigation officials and still came through after several weeks of confinement in darkness. They refrained from "liquidating" him because they feared that his well-concealed material would be published somewhere abroad.
Confinement in a darkened cell was one of the most severe punishments at Dachau. The worst punishment of all was confinement in the standing bunker about which Dr. Neuhäusler wrote: "I still remember well when it was built." Unfortunately, the standing cells were torn down by the Americans after Dachau was liberated and there is no remaining evidence of their existence.
The priests were also put to work in May 1942 in the construction of Baracke X, the crematory building where both the homicidal gas chamber and the disinfection chambers are located.
Paul Berben wrote in his Official History of Dachau that the priests volunteered to help as nurses during a typhus epidemic in the camp in 1943 and as a result many of them contracted the disease and died. There was another typhus epidemic that started in December 1944 and half of all the prisoners who died at Dachau died during this epidemic.
According to Dr. Neuhäusler, clergymen at Dachau were employed as nurses in the camp hospital from 1943 on. He wrote that when outbreaks of typhus twice raged in the Dachau camp, many priests volunteered as nurses and as a result, four of his colleagues contracted the disease and died.
The following quote is from Father Franz Goldschmitt's book:
... Father Fritz Seitz from the Palatinate had been appointed porter in the hospital in the year 1943. In the early morning, he used to sneak into the chapel, take some consecrated Hosts from the tabernacle, hide them in a corner of his underclothing and bring them to the dying. Later, when all priests were driven from the hospital, individual priests, aided by Catholic doctors, themselves prisoners, contrived to bring consolation to the sick.
We priests also heard the confessions of the healthy prisoners when requested to do so, and gave them Holy Communion in a paper, in white cloth or in a small box. Priests often distributed Holy Communion on the roll-call square in time of darkness when the SS-people were counting the other blocks.
According to Paul Berben's book, the Catholic priests at Dachau persuaded the Nazi camp officials to build a chapel for religious services, instead of using one of the barracks for this purpose. Berben wrote: "The patient work by clergy and lay people alike had in the end achieved a miracle. The chapel was 20 metres long by 9 wide and could hold about 800 people, but often more than a thousand crowded in." According to Bergen, religious services were held throughout the day on Sundays, with one service immediately following another.
In the last days of the war, as prisoners from the camps near the war zone in the east were evacuated towards the west, Dachau became increasingly overcrowded. The Commandant of the camp wanted to eliminate the chapel and use the building for housing to alleviate the overcrowded conditions which were leading to epidemics. But the clergy refused to give up their chapel, according to Berben, and suggested that instead of the chapel, the brothel or the shoe repair shop should be used for housing. The clergy won and "the chapel was retained to the last" according to Berben's book.
The following quote is from the book entitled "Zeugen des Abendlandes," written by Father Franz Goldschmitt:
Our poor chapel was converted into a worthy house of God as time passed. The imprisoned priests "organized" an altar with tabernacle, a beautiful figure of Christ, candles, statues and finally even an artistic set of stations. In addition to our simple wooden monstrance, we had another one for important feasts. It sparkled like real silver, yet it had been made from empty tin boxes. An Austrian communist prided himself, and quite rightly too, on the fact that he made this monstrance secretly in the workshop under the eyes of the SS men.
At first only one Mass was allowed daily and it was always celebrated by the same priest, a former Polish army chaplain. The priests, all of whom held a small host in their hands, prayed in an undertone with the celebrating priest and at the Communion consumed the Body of their Lord. Solemn Divine Services were forbidden, as was also every form of religious activity outside the chapel. During the day, no one was permitted to enter the chapel.
From the year 1942, the concelebration of Mass stopped, according to Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler's book.
Dr. Neuhäusler wrote the following in his book:
We communicated as laymen. It was pathetic to see four confreres, clad in their scanty prison dress and often barefooted, pass from row to row with the ciborium. Every Sunday before roll call we had an early Mass, and at 8 a.m. a solemn High Mass with sermon. The great feasts of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and All Saints were celebrated as worthily and as solemnly as in cathedral.
Karl Leisner, a deacon from the diocese of Muenster, who had been a prisoner at Dachau since December 8, 1940, was ordained in the camp on December 18, 1944. He celebrated his first Mass on December 26, 1944.
Father Karl Leisner was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1996 and given the title of Blessed Karl Leisner. Beatification means that the Catholic Church acknowledges that the dead person has ascended to Heaven and now has the power to intercede with God on the behalf of anyone who prays to him or her. In 1999, Pope John Paul II beatified 108 Martyrs of World War II, including some of the priests at Dachau.
While he was a prisoner at Dachau, Father Leisner was suffering from tuberculosis and had given up all hope of ever being ordained a priest. Then in September 1944, Msgr. Gabriel Piquet, Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand in France was transferred from the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace to Dachau. He had been sent to Natzweiler along with other French Resistance fighters who had been captured.
Regarding how Father Leisner was ordained, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler wrote the following:
Now an illegal correspondence with Cardinal Faulhaber and the Bishop of Muenster began. All the papers necessary for the ordination arrived. Episcopal garments and everything necessary for such a ceremony were made by the prisoners in secret.
In his book "The Day the Thunderbird Cried," David L. Israel gives a completely different picture of how the priests were treated at Dachau. Israel was a soldier in the U.S. Army. His job was to interview the Dachau prisoners after they were liberated in order to gather evidence for the war crimes trials which had already been planned.
The following quote is from "The Day the Thunderbird Cried," published in 2005:
New and special tortures were devised daily for the Catholic priests. Sometimes, if they were lucky, they would be assigned to clean the dog kennels or the horse stables. On those occasions, they could sometimes get some of the leftover food which meant another day of survival. Being assigned to the pigsty was almost sure death; many of the prisoners never returned. Their bodies remained where they had been drowned in the pig swill as the SS guards looked on.
One of the Catholic priests who was severely abused at Dachau was Blessed Father Titus Brandsma, a 61 year old Dutch priest, who was at Dachau for only five months before he was killed by an injection in the camp hospital on July 26, 1942 because he was suffering from terminal kidney failure. According to the accounts of his fellow priests, Father Brandsma was beaten and kicked daily even though he was already sick when he arrived in the camp on June 19, 1942. At first, he refused to enter the camp infirmary, and when he did finally consent, Father Brandsma was allegedly forced to participate in medical experiments.
Titus Brandsma was arrested by the Nazis on January 19, 1942 in the Netherlands, which had been under German occupation since May 1940. On January 15, 1942 the Nazis had sent articles to all the Catholic newspapers with orders that they be published the following day. All of the editors refused because on December 31, 1941, Father Brandsma had drawn up a letter to the 30 Catholic newspapers, urging all the Catholic editors in the Netherlands to violate the laws of the German occupation by not publishing any Nazi propaganda.
Father Brandsma had previously written a Pastoral Letter, read in all Catholic parishes in July 1941, in which the Dutch Roman Catholic bishops officially condemned the anti-Semitic laws of the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews. Dutch Catholics were informed by this letter that they would be denied the Sacraments of the Catholic church if they supported the Nazi party.
Father Brandsma had been very vocal in his opposition to the Nazi ideology ever since Hitler came to power in 1933. He was a prolific writer who had articles published in 80 different publications.
On January 21, 1942, Father Brandsma was put on trial and quickly convicted of treason because he refused to cooperate with the German occupation. Blessed Titus Brandsma died a martyr for the right of freedom of the press in an occupied country.
Pope John Paul II beatified Titus Brandsma in 1985, giving him the title of Blessed Titus Brandsma.
Titus Brandsma was a Carmelite priest and a professor of Philosophy and Mysticism at the University of Nijmegan in the Netherlands. He belonged to The Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a religious order that is believed to have been founded in the 12th century on Mount Carmel. The Carmelite priests were dedicated to the worship of Mary, the mother of God.
At the Dachau Memorial Site, there is a Carmelite convent which was built in 1963 just outside the former camp. Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler is buried under the floor of the convent Chapel, near the altar. The entrance to the convent is through one of the former guard towers, which is shown in the photo below. The convent was built on the site of the gravel pit where prisoners were assigned to work as punishment for breaking the rules in the camp.
Entrance to the Carmelite convent at Dachau is through camp guard tower
A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that was formerly in the Catholic Chapel used by the priests at Dachau, is currently displayed in the Carmelite convent Chapel.
Statue from priests' Chapel at Dachau is displayed in the Carmelite Chapel
According to Dr. Neuhäusler, the papal flag was flown over the barracks of the priests on the day that Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945. That night, the Polish priests erected a huge wooden cross on the roll call square in front of the administration building that is now a Museum at Dachau.
Catholic cross in front of Dachau service building, 1945
The Nazi slogan on the roof of the present Museum building, shown in the photo above, was removed long ago. The English translation of the slogan is: "There is one road to freedom. Its milestones are: Obedience, Diligence, Honesty, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Self-Sacrifice, and Love of the Fatherland." Like the sign on the gate, "Arbeit Macht Frei," this slogan was offensive to the Dachau prisoners who did not share the Nazi ideals.
The Dachau Song (Dachaulied)
The Dachau Song was written in 1938 by two Dachau prisoners, Jura Soyfer and Herbert Zipper. Here is the first verse of the Dachaulied in German and then in English:
Stacheldraht, mit Tod geladen,
ist um unsere Welt gespannt.
Drauf ein Himmel ohne Gnaden
sendet Frost und Sonnenbrand.
Fern von uns sind alle Freuden,
fern die Heimat, fern die Frauen,
wenn wir stumm zur Arbeit schreiten,
Tausende im Morgengraun.
Doch wir haben die Lösung von Dachau gelernt
und wurden stahlhart dabei:
Sei ein Mann, Kamerad,
bleib ein Mensch, Kamerad,
mach ganze Arbeit, pack an, Kamerad,
denn Arbeit, Arbeit macht frei!
Barbed wire, loaded with death
is drawn around our world.
Above a sky without mercy
sends frost and sunburn.
Far from us are all joys,
far away our homeland, far away our women,
when we march to work in silence
thousands of us at the break of day.
But we have learned the solution of Dachau
and became as hard as steel:
Be a man, comrade,
stay a human being, comrade,
do a good job, get to it, comrade,
for work, work makes you free!
After the Liberation of Dachau
Many American soldiers, who visited Dachau after the liberation, took photographs which they sent home to their families, along with a description of what they had witnessed. The photographs below are from the G.J. Dettore Collection. They were taken by an American soldier who was at Dachau in early May 1945 after the liberation on April 29, 1945. The caption on the back of the first photo reads "This is a view of the Concentration Camp at Dachau. The fence is electrically charged and with very high voltage. Some of the prisoners are at the right in a large body. 13,000 were released when I was there. Billy"
Notation of the back of photograph taken by American soldier
Photo shows the electrically charged barbed wire fence at Dachau
The photograph below was taken from the west side of the camp where the Würm river forms a moat between the prison enclosure and the area where the crematorium was located. Some of the bodies of the German soldiers who were killed during the liberation were still floating in the river when the first soldiers arrived to see the carnage.
West side of Dachau camp with Würm river in foreground
Former Polish prisoners demonstrate on the Appellplatz at Dachau
The photograph immediately above, from the G.J. Dettore Collection, shows former Polish prisoners at Dachau carrying signs as they march on the Appellplatz where prisoners had to stand for roll call every morning and evening before they were liberated by the Americans. This photo was taken on the east side of the camp by an American soldier in May 1945. Note the gate house with Tower A on top of it on the left-hand side and the line of poplar trees which the Nazis had planted along the main road which ran down the center of the camp.
Catholic cross in front of Dachau service building
After the liberation, a huge crucifix had been erected by the liberated Polish inmates in front of the service building, which is now the Dachau Museum. The majority of prisoners in the camp when it was liberated were Polish Catholics. The cross was removed when the camp was turned into a Memorial site. The Nazi slogan painted on the roof has also been removed.
The German words on the roof translate into English as follows: "There is one road to freedom. Its milestones are: Obedience, Diligence, Honesty, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Self-Sacrifice, and Love of the Fatherland." In the early days of the Dachau camp, prisoners who were considered "rehabilitated" were released, but most of the prisoners were offended by this sign and by the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign on the Dachau gate.
A small museum was immediately set up in May 1945 in the Dachau crematorium building by Erich Preuss, an enterprising former prisoner, who earned money by charging a small admisison fee. A set of 10 photographs of Dachau were on sale at the Museum. On the orders of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, thousands of American soldiers were brought to Dachau to see the gas chamber and crematory ovens. The dead bodies found in the camp were kept for weeks so that as many American soldiers as possible could see them, and after that the bodies in the morgue in the crematorium building were replaced by wax dummies, so that the American soldiers could learn about the Nazi atrocities. This museum was finally closed in 1953 after German citizens of Bavaria complained about the gory display.
One of the men who was brought to Dachau, on General Eisenhower's orders, on May 1, 1945, only two days after the liberation of the camp, was Technical Sergeant Robert Parker Woodruff, a soldier in the 42nd Rainbow Division. A letter which he wrote home to his parents was published by a newspaper in his home town, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is quoted below:
"Mother and Dad,
"Yesterday, May 1, is a day I will never forget, for I went through the Dachau Concentration Camp.
"It was a small city, about the size of Baldwin. Leading into it was a branch railroad, off the main line, and box cars leading into the camp, which had a huge wire enclosure around it. The cars were loaded, and I mean loaded, with dead slave labor, which had been starved to death. Most of them, I could have put my whole hand around their thighs; their legs and arms were quite a bit smaller. Their shoulder blades were protruding five or six inches out of their backs, because they had no flesh on them, and on all of them the pelvic bones were protruding more so than the shoulder blades. They were all nationalities: French, Polish, Russian, Jewish and Americans.
"Before the Infantry had liberated the place, the Germans were in the process of taking these dead off the cars and burning them in a huge crematory. The Germans had cleaned out 20 of the cars, and the rest were waiting to be burned. I remember one car had a layer of bodies up to my knees. Apparently, the Germans were making a frantic effort to get them all burned before the Infantry came.
"The camp must have been a German SS (storm trooper) garrison, because their flag and the Nazi flag were also strewn all over the place, along with the dead German SS troopers. When the Infantry came in, the slave laborers broke loose and started beating and cutting up the SS troopers, and that was a sight. There would be a leg here, an arm there, a hand and a few fingers someplace else. I remember one storm trooper I saw, his head completely smashed; he had no face at all.
"The Germans had numerous barracks, offices, warehouses, and administrative buildings, which were beautifully furnished.
"However, that was all very mild, compared to what I saw next, the crematory. It was a large brick building and, as you entered from the rear, there were a dozen or so small lockers where they fumigated the clothing.
"The next was a gas chamber, where, if they weren't quite dead, they would be finished off.
"Next was one of the two storage rooms, the other storage room being on the other side of the furnaces, of which there were a dozen or so. When I opened the door of the first room, my eyes almost popped, for there, in a room about the combined size of our dining and living room, were stark naked bodies."
Burial of the Bodies after Dachau Liberation
Dachau camp after it was liberated
The old photos on this page were contributed by Fred Ludwikowski, who got them from Robert Thomas Gray, a soldier with the 14th Ordnance Co.
After Dachau was liberated, the camp was turned into a prison for German soldiers. More barracks were constructed and the capacity of the camp was increased to 30,000 prisoners. In the photo above, it appears that there is some construction going on and there is what looks like a wagon load of corpses. The Dachau inmates continued to die of typhus for weeks after the camp was liberated.
Burial of the bodies at Dachau began on May 13, 1945, more than two weeks after the camp was liberated. The bodies had been left out so that as many American soldiers as possible could be brought to Dachau to see the horror.
Dachau farmers haul dead bodies from the camp
A sign on the gate in the photo above warns that the camp is off limits because of a typhus epidemic that has still not been brought under control. The buildings in the background are in the SS garrison which was right next to the Dachau prison camp. Note the team of perfectly matched horses in the background.
Parade of wagons travels along the Avenue of the SS
US Army trucks follow the parade of wagons
Local farmers were forced to haul the corpses to the Leitenberg, a hill near the camp, where they were buried in mass graves, even though their names were known. The farmers had to dress in their best Sunday clothes and the wagons had to take a circuitous route through the town of Dachau. Note that the US Army had plenty of trucks and personnel for this task, but it was important to humiliate the locals and make them feel guilty.
Mass graves on the Leitenberg, May 2001
German Civilians Brought to see the Camps
Dead bodies in the crematorium at Dachau
The American liberators made sure that residents of Dachau and other towns were forced to confront the horrors of the concentration camps. According to Harold Marcuse, in his book "Legacies of Dachau," after the liberation "a group of Dachau Nazi elite was forced to tour the Dachau crematorium on 8 May 1945." There they were made to look at the naked, emaciated bodies of the innocent victims of Nazi barbarity, piled up in the mortuary room right next to the gas chamber. Young boys in the Hitler Youth were brought to the camp and forced to look at the corpses on the Death Train.
The photo below shows one of the emaciated bodies that was on display at Dachau.
Emaciated body of Dachau inmate after the liberation
According to Peter Wyden, in his book "The Hitler Virus," a few of the Dachau notables, who were forced to view the corpses, fainted. Some cried and many shook their heads. Most of them turned away, eager to avoid the scene. Afterwards, they were heard to whisper, "Unglaublich!" (Unbelievable.) The Dachauers could not understand how the prisoners could have starved to death since the townspeople had regularly sent food packages to the camp.
There was a typhus epidemic in the Dachau camp, but the Dachau townspeople were not sprayed with DDT to kill the lice that spreads typhus, and they were not vaccinated before being taken inside the camp and exposed to this disease.
The practice of bringing German civilians from nearby towns to the concentration camps after they were liberated was started by General Walton Walker who ordered the Mayor of the town of Ohrdruf and his wife to visit the Ohrdruf labor camp after it was discovered by American troops on April 4, 1945. After their visit, the Mayor and his wife returned home and killed themselves.
General George S. Patton visited the Ohrdruf camp on April 12th, along with three other generals, one captured German officer and a few of the citizens of Ohrdruf. After his visit, General Patton suggested that all the citizens of Ohrdruf be brought to see the bodies.
The photo below shows the adult citizens of the village of Ohrdruf viewing the dead bodies found by the Americans on the roll call square of the labor camp.
Civilians from town of Ohrdruf were forced to view the bodies
Buchenwald had been liberated on April 11, 1945 and four days later, the citizens of Weimar were force marched at gunpoint five miles uphill to see the dead bodies in the camp. General Patton arrived at Buchenwald the same day and watched the reactions of the townspeople, as they filed past the rotting corpses with handkerchiefs over their noses.
A film, made during the visit of the Dachau citizens to the concentration camp, was included in a movie called Todesmühlen (Death Mills). This movie was part of the re-education program for the German people, who were made to feel personally responsible for what happened in all the concentration camps. This YouTube video shows scenes that were included in the Death Mills movie.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, between April 15 and April 20, 1945, there were 9,300 prisoners in the main Flossenbürg concentration camp, including approximately 1,700 Jews, who were evacuated to Dachau on foot and on trains. Around 2,000 sick prisoners had been left behind.
There were also around 7,000 prisoners, that had been previously evacuated from Buchenwald on theDeath Train to Flossenbürg, who joined the evacuation out of Flossenbürg. The trains stopped in the town of Namering where the citizens brought food and water to the prisoners.
In the town of Namering, 800 prisoners who had died during the evacuation were buried by the SS men guarding the trains. On May 17, 1945, American soldiers forced the people in the town of Namering to dig up the bodies and bury them in individual graves. The photo below shows an American soldier instructing the town's people in their guilt for allowing these prisoners to die.
Citizens of Namering are told of their guilt, May 17, 1945
In the introduction to his book entitled "After the Reich," Giles MacDonogh wrote:
The war had been the bloodiest yet, particularly for civilians. Laying aside some three million dead German soldiers, by 7 May 1945 at least 1.8 million German civilians had perished and 3.6 million homes had been destroyed (20 percent of the total), leaving 7.5 million homeless...
The German civilians in the small towns like Namering and Dachau had not suffered as much as the citizens of Berlin or Dresden, so they could still feel sympathy for the prisoners who had died in the camps and on evacuation trains.
According to Sybille Steinbacher, who wrote a book entitled "Dachau: The Town and the Concentration Camp," the US Army commandant of the town after the liberation spoke angrily to the 30 Dachauers on the day that they were brought to see the camp. He told them, "As punishment for the brutality that the town tolerated next door to it, it should be sacked and turned into ashes!"
The town priest, Father Friedrich Pfanzelt, who was among the visitors, pleaded with the Americans not to destroy the town. In a series of articles in 1981, a Dachau newspaper named the Dachauer Nachrichten wrote about how the priest saved the town: "On his knees, the prelate pleaded for mercy for Dachau."
According to Peter Wyden, author of "The Hitler Virus," 90 percent of the residents of Dachau were Catholic. Regarding Father Pfanzelt, Wyden wrote: "Then, from the pulpit of his St. Jacob's Church three days later, the priest set in motion Dachau's great trauma, the protestation of innocence, the denial of guilt that would never leave the community."
Of all people, Father Pfanzelt should have been aware of the atrocities committed inside the Dachau concentration camp. According to Wyden, "For years the SS had extended him the privilege of conducting Sunday services in the KZ. And he had reciprocated with many ingratiating letters (which Steinbacher found) and had taken pride in his cordial relations with most of the camp commandants."
Father Pfanzelt died in 1958 without ever confirming or denying that he had saved the town from the wrath of the Americans.
St. Jakob church and adjacent Baroque building
Today, Dachau is a beautiful town and St. Jacob's Church still stands. This beautiful Baroque church is shown in the photo above. No one knows if this story is true or not, but it is possible that Father Pfanzelt really did save Dachau from the same fate as Oradour-sur-Glane in France, which was destroyed by SS soldiers because the residents of the town were believed to be aiding the French resistance.
The photograph below shows German civilians burying the bodies on Leitenberg hill. According to author Peter Wyden, "Leading party members were made to bury the dead." Wyden also wrote that "the Americans recruited Dachau women to clean up the boxcars of the death train."
Some of the bodies were so decomposed that they were falling apart, as the photograph below shows.
Civilians burying decomposed bodies at Leitenberg
Photo credit: Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment
The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army devoted a lot of space to The Townspeople of Dachau. According to the Report, the townspeople would tell the Americans: "Wir sind aberall belogen worden." (We have all been lied to.) The townspeople admitted that they knew the camp existed, that they saw work-details of inmates passing through the streets under guard on their way to the 12 work sites in the town, that "in some instances" (particularly in the years 34 and 35) the SS behaved brutally - towards the townspeople, according the The Official Report.
SS soldiers danced with local girls in the Cafe Belstler
As an example of the brutality of the SS men toward the townspeople, on New Year's Eve in 1940, the Cafe Belstler was the scene of a brawl when SS soldiers fought with the locals. On the same night, SS men slugged it out with guests at the Zieglerbräu and the Kochwirt Restaurant.
"Was können wir tun?" (What could we have done?) According to the Official Report, this statement would seem to represent the most popular attitude in the town of Dachau at present. The townspeople told the Americans that in the last years of the war, large numbers of the concentration camp guards were men who had been drafted into the SS against their will. German prisoners in the camp were also recruited to fight on the battlefield with the Waffen-SS in the last days of the war.
The following quote is from The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army:
Several inmates also told the story of how, in last October, a whole SS Regiment was recruited - from of all sources, the inmates of Dachau Concentration Camp. These men were all Reichsdeutsche and under 40 years old. They were given no choice.
Although the population as a whole realized the utter bestiality of the SS and the nauseating occurrences beyond the barred gates of the Camp, they were afraid even to say anything - much less do anything - because the shadow of the Camp hung over them as well.
These people admit that the town as a whole did a thriving business as a result of the presence of the Camp and its attendant SS "Bonzen" (Big Shots) - and it is perhaps not without significance that the most outspoken anti-Nazis were people who, so to speak, could afford to be so by reason of the fact that their business did not bring them in daily contact with the SS.Dachau residents provide food for the inmates
Unloading bread brought by citizens of Dachau after liberation
The day before the Dachau camp was liberated, acting Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss had opened up the well-stocked warehouses in the SS Training Camp, and the food and other supplies were distributed to the starving inmates by the Americans. Dachau residents had to fend for themselves, and were forced to provide food for the released prisoners as well.
Dachau residents were forced to bring bread to the starving inmates
French resistance fighters were among the survivors
Not all of the Dachau survivors were starving, as the above photo of a group of French Resistance fighters shows. They had been in the Natzweiler camp in Alsace, but were brought to Dachau in September 1944.
A few of the released inmates settled in the town of Dachau, including a former Communist prisoner, Richard Titze. Georg Scherer and Johann Sedlmair were Dachau residents who had been sent to the camp as political prisoners. Scherer had been released from his imprisonment after several years, but he continued to live in the town of Dachau and worked in the factories at the camp. After the war, he became the mayor of Dachau. Walter Neff was another Dachau resident who, after his release, had continued to work in the camp, as an assistant to Dr. Sigmund Rascher who did medical experiments on Dachau prisoners for the German Air Force.
The American army appointed Dachau resident Hans Zauner as acting mayor, according to Harold Marcuse, who wrote that the outraged occupying soldiers required the townspeople to supply clothing and foodstuffs for the liberated inmates, and threatened the acting mayor with dire consequences if he did not fulfill the quotas. The mayor was forced to give coupons for free clothing to the ragged survivors, which soon exhausted the stocks of Dachau's two largest clothing suppliers, according to Marcuse, who also wrote the following about the aftermath of the liberation:
In his memoirs Zauner described how on 1 May two soldiers, without a word of warning or explanation, pulled him out of his office, pushed him down the stairs and set him on the hood of their jeep, whereupon they took the 59-year-old for a "joy ride" around the hilly town. Eventually the GIs brought Zauner back to city hall and let him dismount.
Typhus Epidemic at Dachau
Newspaper reporters view bodies at Dachau, May 3, 1945
The photo above shows bodies laid out in rows near a barracks building on the east side of the Dachau camp; these were the bodies of prisoners who had died of typhus after the camp was liberated.
Prisoner reads prayers to two survivors in the infirmary barracks
After the Dachau concentration camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, the former inmates had to be kept inside the prison enclosure for a few more weeks until all danger of spreading the typhus epidemic in the camp had passed. Just before the Americans arrived, up to 400 prisoners had been dying each day in the typhus epidemic which was out of control, according to the testimony of the Chief Doctor of the camp at the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau in November 1945.
American doctors care for sick prisoners in the Dachau typhus ward
Liberated Russian prisoner is deloused with DDT
Before release, inmates had to undergo typhus tests by US Army
On 2 May 1945, the 116th Evacuation Hospital arrived at Dachau and set up operations. According to a report made on 20 May 1945, there were 140 prisoners dying each day in the camp; the principle causes of death were starvation, tuberculosis, typhus and dysentery. There were 4,000 prisoners in the prison hospital and an unknown number of sick prisoners in the barracks who had been receiving no medical attention.
There were 18 one-story wooden SS barrack buildings in the Dachau army garrison which were converted into hospital wards. The medical personnel were housed in the SS administration building. A Typhus Commission arrived and began vaccinating all medical personnel and the prisoners. There was a daily dusting of DDT to kill the lice which spreads typhus.
On 3 May 1945, the sick prisoners were brought to the hospital wards. They were bathed, dusted with DDT powder and given clean pajamas to wear; their old prison clothes were burned.
By July 1945, the typhus epidemic in the Dachau concentration camp had been brought under control by the US Army doctors, and all the prisoners had either been released or moved to a Displaced Persons camp at Landsberg. The photograph immediately above shows former inmates being tested for typhus before being allowed to leave.
40th Combat Engineer Regiment at Dachau
Pile of bodies in front of the Dachau crematorium, May 1945
Photo Credit: Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment
On April 30, 1945, the day after the Dachau concentration camp was liberated, the 40th Combat Engineer Regiment, which was supporting the 45th Thunderbird Division, arrived to take over in the aftermath of the liberation. The soldier in the photo above is Eldon Patterson of E Company, 40th Combat Engineers. In the background is a pile of naked dead bodies, stacked up outside the crematorium. Behind the bodies is Baracke X, the crematorium building, with a wooden structure attached to the brick building. This structure, which has long since been removed, was mentioned in the Chavez Report, written by a US Army officer, after the liberation of Dachau. This report, which was subsequently entered into the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as Documents 159L and 2430-PS, stated that this structure was a "Wooden shed believed to contain a pump or compressor."
Two German civilians are shown on the left in the photo above. According to Donald E. Jackson, who took this photo in May 1945, "We used civilian wagons to haul the bodies and you can see them in other photos. The civilians loaded the bodies and unloaded them into the trench."
The photograph below shows the digging of a trench for a mass grave on the hill called Leitenberg, located a short distance outside the Dachau camp. The trenches were dug with bulldozers by the men of the 40th Combat Engineer Regiment, and German civilians were forced to bury the bodies.
US Army bulldozer digging trench for mass graves at Leitenberg
Photo Credit: Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment
The photograph below shows soldiers from the 40th Combat Engineer Regiment as they search the area around the Dachau camp for dead bodies. The soldier on the left is T5 John Bechtold.
Searching for bodies at Dachau after the liberation
Photo credit: Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment
The men of E Company had the unpleasant task of getting rid of the corpses that were piled up in the camp; the Germans had run out of coal to burn the bodies, so the corpses had accumulated in the last days before the camp was liberated. Since October 1944, the Germans had been burying the bodies in mass graves on a hill called Leitenberg.
Dachau residents were forced to bury some of the decomposing bodies from the camp in individual graves in the town cemetery named Waldfriedhof. The American liberators made sure that everyone in Dachau knew the enormity of the atrocities in the camp by forcing Dachau farmers to haul the bodies by a circuitous route through the town on their way to the Leitenberg cemetery.
In the month of May 1945, there were 2,226 former inmates of the Dachau concentration camp who died of typhus and other diseases in spite of the excellent medical care given to them by the US Army doctors. An additional 196 former prisoners died in the month of June 1945 before the typhus epidemic could be brought under control. Some of the victims who died after the liberation were cremated in the ovens at Dachau, while others were buried in unmarked graves, even though their names were known. Approximately 7,500 Dachau prisoners are buried at Leitenberg, including those buried by the Germans before the liberation and 5,380 who were buried afterwards by the Americans.
The photograph below shows the bodies that were piled up in front of the crematorium, as they are being loaded onto wagons by some of the former inmates at Dachau. Even after they were liberated, the prisoners had to stay inside the camp and they were put to work, supervising the removal of the bodies of their comrades for burial.
Liberated prisoners load bodies onto wagons
Photo credit: Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment
The photograph below, which was also contributed by Donald E. Jackson, shows German civilians unloading bodies from a wagon and placing them in a mass grave dug by the bulldozer. The Germans were ordered to wear their best clothes to show respect for the dead.
German civilians burying bodies at Leitenberg
Photo credit: Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment